Monday, October 14, 2019 -
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Clerk and Recorder

It’s not music, as in the recorder.

It’s not the coveted goal of law school graduates, as in the clerk to a Supreme Court justice.

But if you’re a Denverite and you’re doing anything from getting married to buying land to voting to learning the net worth of your city councilperson, you need a Clerk and Recorder.

It’s only in the past few years that this position in Denver city and county government has been an elected one. It used to be appointed by the mayor.

So next week when you vote for mayor, you will also have the chance to vote for Clerk and Recorder.

The position pays $148,000 annually, a salary set by City Council, and due to rise 10% over the next four years.

The term is four years. The term limit is three terms.

Two people are running for the position, Peg Perl and Paul Lopez.

The IJN invited both for an interview to share their views on the office and on why citizens should vote for one of the two.

Peg Perl accepted the invitation. Paul Lopez did not, despite the fact that the invitation was extended many times over a three-week period.

The following, then, is the (pardon me) record of my interview with Peg Perl.

Question: What is Denver’s clerk and recorder?

Perl: It is an independent office. It is the city’s public record and information official, and the public trustee in foreclosure sales.

It is also the city’s administrator of all elections, on any level, including the presidential election.

Within the confines of state law, the clerk and recorder applies the election rules applicable in all counties. However, for city elections, we allow a potential candidate to collect signatures electronically — this is not done anywhere else in the state.

Also, in other counties, the public trustee is often the treasurer or a stand alone public trustee. In Denver, it’s the clerk and recorder.

There is a long list of records that the clerk and recorder keeps, such as land records (bought and sold), marriage licenses, death certificates, military papers. We provide back-ups of official versions.

We keep and hold the official records of City Council ordinances and city contracts.

We are also responsible for making that information public.

Q: Why is the clerk and recorder important?

Perl: The office serves as the connection between the people and city government.

We make sure we have secure elections so that everyone has trust and faith in the process — in how the votes are counted, and in making sure that everyone who wants to vote, can.

Outside elections, we search through records that people need for a family matter, or for buying or selling property; or, small business can look at city contracts if they’re thinking of bidding on them.

We make available to people what’s going on in the city. A resident wants to know what City Council is doing with citizens’ money.

The office is also important because we have a government ethics responsibility. We are the location for the financial disclosures of all elected officials. We keep the reports of any gifts they’re receiving, of campaign contribution and spending reports.

We make it possible to see any possible conflicts of interest; who is involved in city government and influencing public officials.

Q: How many people work in the office?

Perl: About 50 government civil service staff.

Then, the clerk and recorder can appoint three more people, a deputy clerk and recorder, and two others. This discretion was given to the clerk in a ballot measure last fall.

My thinking is to add a single, overarching public information and communications officer, above the clerk’s four divisions (elections, trustee, clerk, recorder), in order to harmonize and streamline the way residents get information from our office.

Right now, there are different records in different divisions that are related to each other. Each division needs to be researched separately.

The solution is to coordinate and integrate, not to hire more IT people.

My next appointee will focus on the bigger picture in budgeting and intergovernmental relations. The clerk is an independent office, but it must go through the citywide budgeting process. Yet, a lot of the land records generate revenue (statutory fees). The clerk puts money into the city’s general fund that other departments can use.

There is also some duplication, with different people working on budgets in the offices’s different division. I’d like a more streamlined, integrated approach to budgeting.

Q: How does the office interact with other city departments?

Perl: Affordable housing is run out of the office of economic development.

Certain houses become “income restricted.” You have a house on the market that would sell for one-half million. But this program has earmarked that house to sell for less. The seller is restricted as to the selling price and to potential buyers, who can only have a certain income.

This involves the buying and selling of property — the clerk’s office. We make sure these restrictions are recorded properly, reflected in the city records, so future sellers know about restrictions and don’t violate the rules.

Q: What are the qualifications for clerk and recorder?

Perl: There are no city charter requirements except for being a resident of Denver for at least two years, and being a voter. There are no work or education qualifications.

But it requires a person who can run a department with multiple divisions and 50 employees, and during elections another 100 temporary employees.

The clerk must also understand how to take laws and policies that are handed to them by the state or City Council and turn them into programs and implement them.

The clerk must see when there’s a problem in the implementation. and how to solve it, either within the office or by going back to the lawmakers, recognizing when the law must be changed.

Q: What are your qualifications?

Perl: Experience.

I have the combined experience of writing laws, implementing laws, and enforcing them in court — all three — in the specific areas that the clerk’s office handles.

My experience at the federal election commission was specifically on writing regulations and running advisory programs on how to follow the law, how to comply — translating the law in a way that ordinary people can understand.

My experience in Colorado is with Colorado Ethics Watch, working with state legislators in creating and writing the ethics laws, then in working with clerks in implementing them in areas of elections and public records.

Education

My mom was a public school teacher. I’ve inherited a teaching side of my work. I’ve run training workshops to educate people how to use government services and access the information provided by a government agency.

Lawyer

I’ve gone to the Colorado Supreme Court and the federal courts on issues related to the clerk’s office. All of my legal career has focused on elections, ethics and public records.

Because of that I’ve been part of the working groups with the current clerk and recorder as she has updated things during her eight years in office.

Q: Anything else?

Perl: One thing that’s interesting: The clerk and recorder only became an elected official about 10 years ago. That was after the problems with an election in 2006.

Former Mayor Hickenlooper had a special election whether to make the clerk an elected official so the position would be accountable to the people, and not just the mayor. It was a good move.

But we still have an education gap because even now, 10 years later, 40,000 voters left “Clerk and Recorder” blank on the ballot. So we need to educate people about what this office does, and why it’s important, and who’s running it.

People are very excited about City Council and the mayor, but we need to have the media focus on this office itself, regardless of who’s running it, or running for it.

Which is exactly what this column has just done.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor | hillel@ijn.com


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