In a municipality of more than 750,000 people, the Town of Hempstead’s clerk’s office relies on efficiency and transparency to provide various services to its patrons, which includes everything from parking permits to Freedom of Information Law requests.
Incumbent Town Clerk Kate Murray will face challenger and first-time candidate Olena Nicks.
In a Herald question-and-answer, both candidates provided remarks as to what can be done to improve the clerk’s office in order to best serve an increasingly large and diverse community.
Herald: How can the clerk's office be further modernized?
Murray: I have been focused on presenting cost-effective and efficient operations in the town clerk’s office, launching a paperless [Long Island Rail Road] parking pass program. It’s reducing printing costs and conserving natural resources. I have also increased the number of online services in my office, making it more convenient for the public to do business with the clerk’s office. I served the public throughout the Covid pandemic and kept all services open during the pandemic. I initiated innovations such as curbside wedding licenses, Zoom wedding ceremonies and contactless licensing services to serve the public safely and responsibly.
Nicks: The clerk's office can be modernized by creating a FOIL queue system that monitors when requests come in, deadline to answer and whether the request has been responded to. The office also needs an agenda and meeting management system such as board docs that digitizes board meetings and agendas. We need to remove the typewriters, move to scanning all records and having applications electronically.
Herald: Do you support outreach to non-English speakers? How can the office be more inclusive?
Murray: I value all residents who come to my office and work to ensure that they are served — no matter what language they speak. The staff in my office is multilingual. Every day we serve residents of many different nationalities, and we are able to assist them in their own language. Earlier this year I even performed a FaceTime wedding with a sign language interpreter. In addition, we have several applications, application instructions and signs in our office in Spanish, the most common non-English language spoken in my office. I have also advocated to have translation services included on the town’s new website.
Nicks: Currently the office can be intimidating to those who are non-English speaking. Truly, it is intimidating to those who speak English. My plan is to ensure that we get around to each community and educate them on the services we offer. Instead of leaving our residents in the dark, outreach is a number one priority. I want to make sure we have the staff who can support individuals whose English may not be their first language and ensure we have applications in multiple languages. The clerk's office can also work with an online translation program that will allow a resident to select their desired language when viewing the Town website.
Herald: How would you improve the clerk's office, aside from further modernization?
Murray: Providing tax relief is a key priority for me — assisting Supervisor [Donald] Clavin in crafting a tax freeze budget for 2021 and a tax cut budget for 2022. I am also controlling costs by implementing online and paperless services in the Clerk’s Office.
Nicks: I would look to streamline services as best as possible. Develop a 311 system for our residents who may prefer to speak with someone over the phone and are not as technologically savvy. We can improve the clerk's office by hosting online meetings that review and explain services and resources when they come up. Ensuring we are at community events and communicating with residents will be the best way to service residents and improve their experience.