The Swiss Army knives of their communities – Municipal Clerks handle more than just elections

While running elections is an important role for municipal and county clerks, that’s not the only thing they do. Ann Hempel, elected to serve as the part-time Municipal Clerk for the Town of Unity in 2023, estimates that running elections for the 513 people who live in her township is only 5% of her clerk responsibilities. Her other time is spent documenting and reporting municipal activities, maintaining vital records, ensuring transparency, paying bills, and more.

When Hempel’s town board encouraged her to run for Town Clerk, she thought she understood what the clerk’s role entailed. Through her full-time job with the Land Records Department of Trempealeau County, she has regular contact with municipal clerks and townships. Soon after she was elected, she realized there was a lot more to the job. “Even though I worked with clerks, I didn’t understand the full set of responsibilities. It’s hard work and a lot of people are doing it in their spare time because they’re only paid a certain amount of money and for a Township it’s very part-time.

Getting it all done

Melissa Kono, an Extension Associate Professor of Community Development in Trempealeau and Clark Counties, specializes in local government education. She is also the Municipal Clerk for the Town of Burnside, a position she has had for more than 10 years. “I was fortunate that I took over for a clerk who was very detail-oriented and methodical, and he helped me as questions arose. But there were still things that I had to just figure out on my own,” Kono said. She recalled nights when she would sit for hours trying to figure something out, “I just wanted to pull my hair out. I had people I could go to and it was still frustrating.”

Municipal Clerk Melissa Kono in her Burnside office.

That real-world experience and inside knowledge of what clerks go through informs her work in Extension. Kono has developed several trainings focused on helping municipal clerks be more effective and efficient. Most recently, she launched the “Year in the Life of a Clerk” training, giving clerks a month-by-month overview of their responsibilities. “I wanted to organize the information so it was easier to know what needs to be done and when.” Clerk duties are constantly changing throughout the year, and this training allows new clerks to better understand and anticipate issues that may arise.

Hempel participated in Extension’s “Year in the Life of a Clerk” Training. She said that walking through her monthly responsibilities helped her get more organized and have a better handle on what she needs to do. “It gives me an idea of the timeline and then I’m not trying to do a 50-page report on April 14th when it’s due on the 15th.” Before Kono developed the training, Hempel said there wasn’t one place to go where she could get information on what, when, and to whom things are due.“It’s served as a central place where I can find what I need.” said Hempel. And that means she can fill things out more completely and do a better job for her residents. 

Sarah Godlewski, Secretary of State of Wisconsin, works closely with county and municipal clerks. She attended the “Year in the Life” training to get a better understanding of their responsibilities and to find ways her office could support their work. “One of the things that stood out, that I’ve talked to clerks about since, is that the “Year in the Life” training gave an overview of the year,” Godlewski said, “If we think about the year, here’s how we can best tackle the things that you’re responsible for and again, be as efficient and effective as possible.”

Godlweski advocates for providing clerks with resources and training to help them feel prepared and confident in their roles. “Since clerks are literally the Swiss Army knives of their communities, they have to be able to do so much. Training is really helpful in clarifying and answering those questions and providing certainty that helps clerks do their jobs to the best of their ability.”

What about Election Training?
When it comes to election administration, Wisconsin has comprehensive and monitored requirements to ensure that clerks are trained and prepared to follow the law when running elections. Each new clerk is required to complete the Municipal Clerk Core Course before their first election. After that, clerks are required to complete six hours of election training every two years, so they are current on election procedures and documentation. Municipal Clerk Core Course trainers, like Kono, are certified by the Wisconsin Election Commission, who oversees and ensures that the course content follows the topics included in state law.

There’s a workshop for that

The “Year in the Life” training is great for new clerks, but it’s just a start. For many of the reports and responsibilities, clerks need specific training that goes deeper. They need to know what data to report, where to get the information, and where to submit documents in order to keep their community in compliance with state requirements.

Karl Green, Extension’s Local Government Education Program Manager, works with his team to develop workshops that address specific needs when they arise. Based on information from clerks, county-based educators, government officials, and administrators, local government workshops allow clerks to get much more detailed information about a specific form or skill they need, covering topics such as parliamentary procedure, board of review, open meetings law, and public records requests.

This April, Green’s team is offering a new workshop called “Completing Form C/CT”. Each clerk submits Form C/CT, to document what their municipality spends annually on services like EMS and transportation. “As you’re getting new clerks coming in, they just seem like deer in the headlights,” Kono said, “It’s not even new clerks. I’ve been a clerk for 11 years, and Form C/CT is my least favorite part of the job.” Kono has received more questions about the form this year than in any year past, which encouraged Green and his team to develop the workshop.

Clerks have a larger impact on their communities than most people realize. For example, Hempel says that she needs to complete reports and documentation for her township to operate correctly. “If you have someone who’s not on the ball or hasn’t done the research to fully fill something out, then your Township, your municipality, is going to lose money.”

While Form C/CT allows the Department of Revenue to track how tax dollars were spent in each community, there are other ways that data is used. The Local Government Program developed a data analysis software called G.R.E.A.T.- Graphing Revenues, Expenditures, and Taxes. Using financial data from clerks, the software allows anyone the ability to look at what local governments spend on public safety or libraries and compare that to other municipalities. Green said that when you consider the power of data that comes from a report like that, it highlights one of the important roles clerks play in local government. If every clerk across the state understands how to complete the form, the information is a powerful planning and decision-making tool. 

The Local Government Education Program provides resources, workshops, and virtual trainings to help elected officials gain the skills and knowledge they need to be efficient and effective. For training materials available to Municipal Clerks, contact Melissa Kono ( To learn more about resources and upcoming workshops, visit