The title "Clerk" developed from the Latin clericus. During the Middle Ages, when scholarship and writing were limited to the clergy, “clerk” came to mean a scholar, especially one who could read, write, and thus serve as secretary, accountant and recorder.
In 1439, Symkyn Birches was awarded the office of "Toun Clerk" of Coventry for the rest of his life and the position became commonplace as local government developed throughout England and Wales. In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act required every borough council to appoint a salaried Town Clerk. The position of Clerk was further consolidated by the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894 which granted, respectively, County Councils and then Urban and Rural Districts and the newly created civil parish councils the specific power to appoint a “Clerk of the Council”. The importance of the Clerk’s position was underlined by Lord Justice Caldecote ruling in Hurle-Hobbs ex parte Riley and another (1944) observed: "The office of town clerk is an important part of the machinery of local government. He may be said to stand between the local Council and the ratepayers. He is there to assist by his advice and action the conduct of public affairs in the borough and, if there is a disposition on the part of the council, still more on the part of any member of the council, to ride roughshod over his opinions, the question must at once arise as to whether it is not his duty forthwith to resign his office or, at any rate, to do what he thinks right and await the consequences."
The Chief Executive
By the early 1970s there was a significant change in the theory of local government’s managerial leadership. While the Clerk’s role had included the statutory duties of the maintaining of records and registrations and the drafting of Council and committee minutes and they were also concerned with overall policy and management, few had powers of control or direction over other Directors or Chief Officers. The role of the Clerk at the time was regarded as “primus inter pares” or “the first among equals”. Following recommendations of the Maud Commission on Local Government in 1967 many larger councils were replacing their Clerk with a “Chief Executive” as a head of paid service. At the time of the major reorganisation of local government in 1974, all remaining principal councils were issued with a copy of the report of the Bains Committee on the Management and Structure of Local Government which recommended specific managerial appointments who would serve in a management team under the leadership of a Chief Executive. At the same time, whilst parish councils were strengthened under the 1972 Act, they continued to mainly have one salaried officer who continued to be known as “The Clerk”.
The Clerk is often called the 'second citizen' in view of the advisory and ceremonial role played alongside the first citizen (the Mayor). Custom and practice give the Town Clerk a very high billing and the Clerk, as the Council's senior advisor, should remain close to the Mayor. As head of the Administration the Clerk should be supported by all members of the council.
Lichfield City Council
The Town Clerk is the Chief Officer of the Council, the principal advisor to the Council, and responsible for carrying out the policies and instructions of the Council. The Town Clerk is the Council’s “Proper Officer” which is a title used in statute referring to the appropriate officer for the relevant function. In respect of financial matters, the proper officer is known as the Responsible Financial Officer. The Town Clerk, not individual councillors, is responsible for all staff and it is the Clerk that should be approached if councillors have any concerns regarding staffing or individual staff members. The Town Clerk is accountable to the Council for the effective control and management of all staffing and other resources.
The Town Clerk is employed by the Council (under section 112 (1) of the Local Government Act 1972) and is required to be independent, objective and professional at all times. The Clerk serves the Council as a Corporate Body and is answerable to that body, rather than to any individual councillor or group of councillors.