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Clerk Spotlight: Middleburg, Virginia

Rhonda North is town clerk for Middleburg, a small town in northern Virginia about 45 miles from Washington, D.C. Granicus sat down with her to talk about the role of a clerk in small municipalities, how technology is changing task completion, and her future hope to become a black belt in Taekwondo.

How long have you been a town clerk?

I’ve been a clerk for just shy of 30 years, and I’ve been the clerk in Middleburg for the last 12 years.

What does a typical day look like?

I perform many of the typical tasks of a clerk like preparing minutes and responding to citizen requests. I’m also leading the launch of our new town website. In a small town like Middleburg (there are fewer than 700 people here), everyone in government is a “department of one.” That means we depend on each other greatly – when something comes up, it doesn’t matter if it’s technically in your job description, you just need to pitch in. For instance, our council is interested in moving the town government to new facilities. I launched a space-needs study that helped us identify what we need in facilities now and in the future. That’s not something you’d typically see a town clerk doing.

How has the role changed in the last 5 years?

There hasn’t been a lot of change in the basic duties of a town clerk – our role is to serve citizens, the council, and everybody else. What has changed is how we go about doing that. When I started as a clerk, we typed everything up on a typewriter and made copies manually. Now everything is done electronically, which reduces the amount of time needed to complete those tasks. But there’s no such thing as free time as a clerk: The time we’ve saved gets filled with new projects like managing the website—something that didn’t exist 30 years ago.

What’s a challenge you faced in your role and how did you overcome it?

I’m in charge of creating the minutes for our council, as well as a few other commissions and committees in town government. The council likes detailed minutes, which is important but takes up a lot of time.

“I was spending the equivalent of three to four months out of the year completing minutes…we now live stream all of our town council meetings and attach the video file to a simple set of action-only minutes.”

We knew my time could be better spent, so we now live stream all of our town council meetings and attach the video file to a simple set of action-only minutes. This reduces the amount of time I spend putting minutes together while still providing context—and it has the added benefit of allowing people who can’t attend the meeting to watch whenever they want.

What’s something the public doesn’t know about being a clerk?

To some degree, everything. I think there’s a lot of confusion around what a clerk does because it varies from locality to locality. In some larger places, a clerk might focus almost solely on agendas, minutes, and resolutions. Meanwhile, in small jurisdictions, we need to be a jack of all trades. In my last clerk role, I was in charge of the government access channel—not something typical in a clerk’s role. In some places, the clerk serves as town treasurer. Folks don’t understand the duties of the clerk because they’re so wide and varied.

What’s an interesting fact about you, outside of being a clerk?

I’m very close to becoming a black belt in Taekwondo. I’ve gone to the gym for a long time, but about six years ago I felt like I was in a bit of a rut. A trainer at the gym who taught Taekwondo classes invited me to join. I was thinking, “This is something a little different – let’s give it a try.” I never envisioned embarking on a goal to become a black belt, but here we are!