Smooth transition


by Mike Kroll


Anita Carlton, who has served as Galesburg city clerk for more than 25 years, announced Tuesday that she will retire at the conclusion of her present term at the beginning of May 2009. Almost simultaneously deputy clerk Kelli Bennewitz announced her intention to run for this office in the April 2009 consolidated election. Bennewitz is looking to fill some big shoes here as Carlton is not only the current longest serving elected official in Galesburg but also among the longest serving city clerks in the state.

Carlton had worked in the city election office since 1975 when in 1983 then-mayor Jerry Miller appointed her to fill the vacant city clerk position. "It was a wonderful opportunity for me to take on additional responsibilities," noted Carlton, "and it meant an immediate pay raise of over $10,000." She was initially elected city clerk in 1985 and reelected in each of the five elections since. "I never had competition but received the highest number of votes in each election." Over the course of her long career Carlton has worked with five mayors, six city managers, five city treasurers and 40 city council members. For over a quarter century Carlton has stood as one of the few constants in Galesburg's city hall.

City clerk is one of but two full-time elected positions in Galesburg (the other being city treasurer) and they are unique in that neither answers to either the city manager of the city council, but solely to the voters of the city. While the city clerk works closely with both the city council and regular city staff the office has independent responsibilities as defined by both state statute and city ordinance. In addition to maintaining the official records of the city and recording all the actions of the city council the city clerk is also responsible for fire and police pension records; registration of pets, contractors, rental properties and alarm system; cemetary records; maintaining the city codes; and serving as the city's freedom of information and ethics officer. The city clerk also functions as township clerk and is therefore responsible for all the township's official paperwork as well.

Bennewitz joined the city clerk's office in 2003 as deputy city clerk with the intention being to one day become city clerk herself. "When Anita hired me we talked about this transition and how she would insure that I was fully prepared to step into this job when the time came for her to retire," commented Bennewitz. A native of Galesburg, Bennewitz only left briefly to attend college, she is married to Galesburg High School English teacher and former local broadcaster Brad Bennewitz and together they are raising their family of two children here. Before being hired by Carlton she worked for almost15 years at the Galesburg Area Chamber of Commerce and she has been active in local civic groups including the Altrusa Club and the United Way.

"I have been somewhat of a pioneer among city clerks in Illinois in that I was the first to send my deputy for training to qualify her as a Certified Municipal Clerk," explained Carlton. "I sent Kelli to the International Institute of Municipal Clerks for the required training to become certified and since then she has completed the three year process of attaining the status of Registered Municipal Clerk through the Municipal Clerks of Illinois. Since other city clerks have seen Kelli go through this training process it is now becoming more common to find deputy city clerks participating in this training and this must be seen as a good development."

Carlton herself has  been a Master Municipal Clerk since 2000 and a longstanding member and multiple office holder within the Municipal Clerks of Illinois group. "I believe that I was the eleventh clerk in Illinois to attain the MMC status, the highest level of professional recognition for city clerks and I am proud to have served on the Training Institute committee as elected by my peers and appointed by the governor. The role of a city clerk is much more than just taking minutes at city council meetings and it has steadily increased during my time in office. It is important that someone in this position be properly trained and prepared for the responsibilities of this office and I am proud to say that I have done everything I could to prepare Kelli for this job. Kelli has the experience, education and personal characteristics necessary to be an effective and professional city clerk and I will be proud to see her follow in my footsteps."

In the press release announcing her candidacy Bennewitz wrote: "I have enjoyed working for the City of Galesburg for the past several years. The City Clerk's office plays an important role in city operations. We help link the public, City staff and the City Council.  I am prepared for this great responsibility."

Bennewitz began this training process almost immediately upon being hired. In January 2004, less than two months after being hired, she attended her first training and she is now both a Registered and Certified Municipal Clerk. As Carlton's deputy Bennewitz has been actively involved in all aspects of the city clerks office and has stood in for Carlton at city council meetings as needed never missing a beat. "I have worked with Anita to accomplish a number of innovations in this office, like the use of a cash register," explained Bennewitz. "The clerk's office handles a variety of payments and previously we hand wrote receipts. The cash register provides a better record of transactions and is more secure."

While Carlton has been at the forefront among city clerks in Illinois in the transition to greater use of technology and the electronic storage of documents this is a process that both she and Bennewitz stress must be a key priority for continued improvement in the near future. "Our continued movement toward more electronic document storage is important for reasons of both convenience and security," explained Bennewitz. "A tremendous volume of city paperwork goes through this office and we must maintain originals of all official documents so we can never become paperless. However, through imaging and other electronic means we now store all those documents in computer accessible form and are working backwards as time permits to digitize older city documents and include them in the system. This enables us to better serve both city officials and the public, and after all that's the reason we are here."

It's not for nothing that the city clerk is also the freedom of information office for the city. While other areas of city hall are sometimes less than eager or cooperative in making information easily available to the public and press the city clerk's office has always had an open door policy, literally. "We want citizens to feel free to approach us with questions about the city, maintaining those records for everyone's use is the reason this office exists," said Bennewitz. We like to assist citizens whether they are seeking a liquor license or information about city codes or ordinances. We have worked hard to make as much information available on the Internet as practical and I intend to go even further after I am elected city clerk. I would like to see it possible for citizens to not only get more information on-line, make applications on-line but also conveniently make payments on-line as well. While we will always be here to answer questions and help people in person I want to embrace the extended convenience offered by creative use of the Internet."

"I am absolutely confident that my training under Anita has prepared me for the challenges and stress of this job," added Bennewitz. "I have been in public service my entire adult life since college and I enjoy that role. As city clerk I will be able to help improve my hometown and serve my neighbors. I pledge to efficiently and cost effectively make service my top priority and to insure that everyone who deals with the Galesburg city clerk's office is treated with the courtesy and respect they have come to expect under Anita."