When Cheshire voters head to the polls this Nov. 7, many choices will await them. Some will be difficult, some perhaps less so. One, however, should be easy.
This year, there will be one name on the ballot for Town Clerk — Patti King. She currently serves her hometown as its Deputy Town Clerk.
King has been endorsed by both parties, and by her outgoing boss, Laura Brennan, who is not seeking election again after having served in various roles in the Town Clerk’s office for the past 30 years, including the past eight as Town Clerk. Although King taking over the office appears to be a given, Brennan wants voters to better understand the Clerk’s office, the services it offers, and the important role it plays in civil society.
Brennan, first of all, states that she is very happy to have found a worthy successor after “a good long time” in her role.
“We’re non-partisan in this office, but I also had to decide who was the best candidate to take the torch when I retired,” Brennan explains. “Over the last 12 years together, we’ve made a great team and we’ve accomplished so much together that I knew Patti was the best person for the job.”
Both the Cheshire Republican and Democrat Town Committees agree. In their meetings to confirm candidates, King received the enthusiastic support of both parties.
“It’s actually pretty rare (to have both parties give their endorsements), but we’re very non-partisan in this office,” Brennan reiterates, “and we take our jobs serving the public very seriously.”
“It’s a really nice feeling knowing both parties support me, especially in this day and age when there is so much division,” says King.
The Town Clerk is a two-year elected term position in Cheshire. Other communities in the state have as long as six-year terms, or have clerks appointed to the position by a town manager or first selectman.
Although the clerk is subject to the whims of voters, Brennan points out that continuity is important to the proper functioning of the office. “The Town benefits when there’s stability,” she said. “It’s detrimental to have a lot of turnover, because institutional knowledge is hard to come by.”
And Cheshire has experienced such continuity over the history of the Clerk position.
The department keeps a list of those who have held the office, from its first Clerk, Samuel Beech in 1780, to Rufus Hitchcock, who served almost a half-century starting in 1792. James Lanyon served in the role from 1895 to 1954, which was then helmed by Mae Tabor. Carolyn Soltis, another long-serving Clerk, preceeded Brennan.
Prestigious Cheshire names such as Cornwall, Doolittle, Hinman, Humiston, Moss and more appear as well over the years, suggesting the importance that the trusted institution had in town.
The Clerk’s office has a variety of record-keeping responsibilities, from birth and death records, to land conveyances, taking legal service on behalf of the Town, and notarizing documents. It is also the place for dog licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, trade names and certificates, absentee ballots and copies of maps and land records.
In recent years, much of the work has gone digital, with annual state grants helping to pay for some of the process.
“There are new programs all the time,” Brennan explained, including enhanced security that protects the privacy of the personal information found on absentee ballots, vital records and land records. “It’s constantly very interesting work.”
King adds that having good clerks in place is important not only in Cheshire, but in every town. She tells a story of one town clerk, not in Cheshire, who made an inadvertent error, leading many other towns to have to perform recounts in a recent election.
“It really shows how towns can overlap, and clerks have to rely on each other,” King says.
Brennan takes an interest in the history of the Town Clerk role in a larger sense. A pamphlet prepared by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks traces the origins of the Clerk to the Hebrew “Mazkir Ha’ir” meaning “city or town reminder.” Keeping accurate records has been a feature in civilizations across the globe ever since, and the Clerk’s office serves not only attorneys and historical researchers but people from all walks of life.
“We try to treat everyone with care. It’s not a political office and it doesn’t matter who you are, we take pride in customer service,” adds King.