In a township of 750,000 people, the Town of Hempstead clerk is responsible for handling records as mundane as a parking permit and as momentous as a marriage license.
Immigration attorney Sylvia Cabana is challenging incumbent Nasrin Ahmad for control of the office that she has occupied since 2013. The clerk provides services necessary for work, travel and pet ownership, as well as maintaining municipal records dating back centuries.
The two bring a variety of qualifications. Both tout their multilingual backgrounds and their command of handling records. Cabana would like to see increased accessibility to the office and expand government transparency by providing more records online. Ahmad says many of these suggestions are at various stages of implementation.
The Herald conducted a Q&A to provide the public with their stances on the issues.
Herald: How do you define the role of town clerk?
Sylvia Cabana: The town clerk is the keeper of vital records and documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, passports, and also issues permits. The town clerk prepares the town board agendas and maintains all town board meeting minutes, which includes the voting on all legislation by all board members including town supervisor.
I believe that the town clerk should also serve as a role model by visiting schools, libraries, senior centers and other groups, and showing my concern for the well-being of all town residents. Community outreach should be a priority for the town clerk. I will look at my constituents as individuals with hopes and dreams, not as voters to be manipulated. I will work to earn their trust and respect. Obviously, this is exactly what residents deserve.
Hempstead is the largest town in America in terms of population. Let’s make it the most effective town as well.
Nasrin Ahmad: The town clerk is the custodian of all town records. It is the clerk’s responsibility to maintain and safeguard these records to ensure their protection and preservation. The town clerk’s office is a service-providing office, and thus the town clerk must maintain high-quality customer service while simultaneously upholding standards to secure town records. As registrar, the clerk keeps and issues birth and death records, burial permits and conducts genealogical searches. Further, the clerk issues various permits and licenses, passport applications and performs marriage ceremonies. It is the clerk’s duty to set the agenda for town board meetings, and maintains town board records and publishes notices of public hearings. The clerk records town ordinances, local laws, personnel actions, petitions, proof of publication, annual budgets, assessment rolls, fiscal reports, notice of liens, subpoena and court actions, bond and note registers, zoning ordinances and maps.
What do you think can be done to improve the efficiency of the town clerk’s office?
Cabana: Currently anyone who visits or phones the town clerk’s office finds it to be a frustrating and daunting experience in accessing simple records and documents. I intend to make it a more taxpayer-friendly and welcoming environment. It is important to bring the clerk’s office into the 21st century by providing documents online, by making records digitally accessible to residents and expanding town hall hours. Also, in order to better serve the diverse needs of town residents, it is important to have translation services available.
Ahmad: When I first became Hempstead town clerk, one of my primary goals was to improve the efficiency of the office in an effort to make our daily processes more convenient for residents. I extended office hours on Thursdays to 7 p.m. so residents who work during the day would have the opportunity to utilize our services in the evening. I implemented an electronic licensing program designed to streamline workflow and eliminate any excess use of paper. To further assist my constituents, I posted applications online so they can be reviewed, downloaded and completed, ensuring a faster and more convenient transaction process. Additionally, I have posted minutes of meetings online and live-streamed Hempstead Town Board meetings to increase transparency. Each of these improvements has had a positive impact on the day -to-day operations of the office and has helped residents. I will continue these practices, and while I am proud of these improvements, I am always looking for ways to improve our programs and technological capabilities.
With concerns over cyber attacks, how would you help improve the security protecting residents’ records?
Cabana: First, I would evaluate the clerk’s IT staff and determine if they need retraining or continuing education assistance. They need to be able to utilize the latest and most efficient methods to update and monitor any security system that will best serve the clerk’s office. If the current IT team is not up to the task, I would hire technology professionals to oversee the security system to protect all records and vital documents. I would make sure the software that we use remains patched and up to date. Only vetted employees with updated passwords would have access to private records. The whole reason behind the Equifax breach was because of known issues with their software, which remained unpatched and out of date. As town clerk, the protection of residents’ records from cyber attacks would be a top priority.
Ahmad: As the custodian of town records, protecting our electronic documents is something I take very seriously. IT specialists continually test our firewalls to make sure they are secure. The protocols regarding employee passwords are clearly stated, and the sharing of these passwords is strictly prohibited. All electronic assets receive frequent checkups and are overseen by technological specialists. External hard drives and tape drives are kept in secure locations and backup files are housed at an off-site location.
Herald: What do you think qualifies you to be elected as Hempstead town clerk?
Cabana: As an attorney and mother of two, I believe I have the intellect and heart to address the problems and concerns of the residents of Hempstead.
My training as an immigration attorney makes me very familiar with the documents and vital records often requested at the clerk’s office. My fluency in Spanish makes me able to read and understand such documents. My Hispanic background gives me a unique understanding of foreign cultures and how diversity in our town is one our greatest assets. Most importantly, a town clerk should be welcoming to all residents. People who visit the clerk’s office should be treated in a professional and courteous manner. It is important to make all the services of the clerk’s office easily accessible to all. I enjoy all people and cultures, and it would be an honor to serve as town clerk. I feel I am uniquely qualified and capable of an outstanding job.
Ahmad: Even before I became town clerk, I had 15 years of administrative experience in the Town of Hempstead. This comprehensive experience made the transition from administrative clerk, to administrative supervisor and then to town clerk much easier. I know the mechanics of the office. I have an in-depth understanding of every section within the town clerk’s office. I know how to create transparency, save taxpayer dollars and continually do more with less. It is important to note that the Town of Hempstead is the largest municipality in the country, and it is the largest passport acceptance facility in the state. The town clerk must have an acute awareness of how the operation runs. This is not a position that will allow for on-the-job training. I am proud to say that I know the people and I know the place. I have the necessary experience to qualify for reelection but even more importantly I have a passion for it. I love what I do. I want to help people and I know I can do that by continuing to maintain the highest level of public service.