City of Hamilton (Ont.). Office of the City Clerk

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Corporate body

Authorized form of name

City of Hamilton (Ont.). Office of the City Clerk

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  • City of Hamilton Clerk's Office

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Description area

Dates of existence

1847-

History

Under Hamilton's Act of Incorporation City Council could appoint a non-councillor to serve as City Clerk. His duties, many of which were first established by practice and precedent, were set out in Statutes and municipal by-laws. The Clerk, with the authority to summon committee meetings and to convene Council meetings when required by a competent authority, attended all Council meetings, recording the proceedings "without note or comment." He was the custodian of city documents, keeping Council's books, records, and accounts, the original or certified copies of by-laws, and the City Seal, attending to Council's correspondence, and storing all deeds, securities, leases, and other valuable papers belonging to the city in his office safe; these records were not to leave his possession without the permission of the Mayor or the Chairman of the Finance Committee.

In 1861, the Clerk was given permission to employ help as needed on a temporary basis, and it was not until 1884 that Samuel H. Kent was appointed as permanent Assistant City Clerk, serving also as Assistant Secretary to the school Board and deputizing for the City Clerk as Police Court Clerk. In 1886, a general duties clerk was added to the department. Nonetheless, in 1891, City Clerk Thomas Beasley complained to Council that the growth of the city, the result of a major annexation occurring earlier in the year, had led to a great increase in the work of the department; consequently, finding his work backing up, he had been forced to hire help out of his own pocket. By 1925, the department had expanded to consist of the City Clerk, 2 Assistants, and 10 clerks. By 1973, office staff stood at over 40 with departmental appropriations set at $496,840. Under the super vision of the Ontario Government, increasing emphasis was placed on professionalization; after 1958, for example, the City Clerk was required to have university training in public administration. Originally the Clerk was paid a salary and could keep the fees he collected but in 1850 this was changed to a larger salary in lieu of fees.

Clearly, because of the multiplicity and important nature of his functions, a competent, experienced City Clerk was essential to the smooth and efficient operation of municipal government. Thus, it is unsurprising that between its incorporation as a city and the introduction of regional government in 1973, Hamilton had only 6 City Clerks, with 3 Clerks overseeing operations between 1854 and 1964. Continuity and stability in terms of senior personnel was the hallmark of the department, with new Clerks often chosen internally after serving a long apprenticeship. For example, Samuel H. Kent (1906-1935) had joined the Clerk's office in 1884. Such continuity, moreover, led to a close and personal identification on the part of City Clerks with local government and its fortunes. For example, Thomas Beasley (1854-1906) rescued the City from bankruptcy during the financial crisis of 1863 by hiding assessment rolls from the sheriff and then leaving town. The following individuals served as City Clerk: Charles H. Stocker, 1847-1852; John Kirby, 1852-1854; Thomas Beasley, 1854-1906; Samuel H. Kent, 1906-1933; James Berry, 1933-1964; Edward A. Simpson, 1964-1996; and Joseph J. Schatz, 1996-[?]

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The Clerk planned civic receptions, arranged for tenders, and oversaw the distribution of office supplies to city departments. During municipal elections he acted as Returning Officer and supervised the preparation of voters' lists. He served as secretary to the Boards of Health and Education, keeping their minutes and conducting their correspondence, and as Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, in the latter capacity submitting bi-annual returns to the provincial government. Indeed, the Clerk conducted an active correspondence with other levels of government, transmitting financial and demographic statistics. As well, he played an important part in the administration of criminal justice and policing in Hamilton. The Clerk was responsible for issuing licenses, after 1872 in his capacity as Clerk of the Police Commission. In this role he attended all commission meetings, keeping its minutes and preparing police payrolls. As Police Court Clerk he attended daily sessions of the Police Court, keeping its minutes, accounts, and registers and collecting monies.

Finally, the Clerk had numerous duties relating to the financial affairs of the city. He was required to attend the meetings of the Finance Committee after first gathering and arranging departmental accounts for Council's perusal. After accounts passed Council he drew up notes on the Treasury for their payment. He oversaw the preparation of Assessment and Collectors' Rolls. Required to attend the Court of Revision, the Clerk kept its minutes, notified the parties appealing their assessment of the Court's decision, and correspondingly altered the Assessment Rolls. In addition, the Clerk served as High Bailiff, acting as an auctioneer for land sales for taxes and granting certificates for each lot sold. Given their many and ever expanding responsibilities, unsurprisingly City Clerks often urged Council to employ assistants for them so they would not fall behind in their work. An assistant City Clerk was appointed in 1856 but it was an impermanent position subject to the vagaries of civic finances.

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