City Clerk vs. City Administrator: What’s the Difference?

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • September 5, 2023
a group of diverse people sitting together discussing ideas

Navigating the intricacies of city government can be challenging, especially the distinctions between key positions like the city clerk versus city administrator. Though their titles may seem similar, these roles entail different focuses and responsibilities.

Fortunately, software solutions for government offices have revolutionized things. Take government meeting software, which  streamlines council and committee activities. That promotes efficient collaboration among departments and people in the local government, including the city clerk and city administrator. 

What is a City Clerk?

A city clerk is a vital position within the municipal government responsible for managing and preserving official records and documents. The city clerk is the primary custodian of records such as ordinances, resolutions, meeting minutes, contracts, and official correspondence. 

They also act as citizens’ central point of contact, providing information about city operations, ordinances, and public meetings. The city clerk may administer local elections, including voter registration and coordination of polling places.

Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of a city clerk can vary depending on the municipality and its governing structure. However, some common duties associated with the position:

  • Public information: As a primary point of contact for the public, the city clerk handles public inquiries, fulfills public records requests, and ensures transparency in government operations.
  • Legal compliance: The city clerk ensures compliance with legal requirements and procedural guidelines, both internally and externally. They may work closely with the municipal attorney to ensure adherence to relevant laws, regulations, and policies.
  • Legislative support: The city clerk supports the legislative process by assisting elected officials, such as preparing and distributing meeting materials, managing legislative calendars, and maintaining official records of legislative actions.
  • Licensing and permits: Depending on the municipality, the city clerk may be responsible for issuing licenses and permits, such as business licenses, marriage licenses, and special event permits.
  • Historical preservation: The city clerk is the custodian of historical records, preserving the municipality’s history and heritage. They may oversee archival activities, ensuring the proper storage and accessibility of historical documents and artifacts.

Also, the city clerk promotes various types of civic engagement within the community, promoting active participation of citizens in the democratic processes and decision-making of their local government. Civic engagement examples in the municipality may include voter registration and education, community outreach, public meeting and hearing, and collaborative initiatives.

Pay and Notoriety 

As city clerks are considered vital within the local government, their compensation reflects the level of responsibility and expertise required. However, the municipality’s size, location, and the job’s responsibilities may affect the compensation. According to, the average salary of a city clerk in the United States ranges between $45,649 and $56,206 (data as of May 1, 2023).

While city clerks may not always be widely recognized or known by the general public, their role is highly regarded within municipal administration. They are critical to the smooth functioning of local government and are respected for their knowledge of governance procedures, record-keeping expertise, and commitment to transparency and accountability.

What is a City Administrator?

A city administrator, also known as a city manager or chief administrative officer (CAO), is a key position within municipal government responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and management of the city or town. The city administrator works under the direction of elected officials, such as the mayor or city council.

The city administrator works closely with department heads, standing committees and staff to coordinate and manage various municipal projects and initiatives. Departments city administrators often work with include finance, public works, planning and zoning, parks and recreation, and public safety.

Roles and Responsibilities

The CAO assists in preparing meeting agendas, ensuring relevant topics are included for discussion. During the city council meetings, the city administrator may provide reports, updates, and recommendations to the city council based on their administrative expertise and knowledge of the city’s operations.

Other roles and responsibilities delegated to the city manager include;

  • Administration and leadership: The CAO develops and implements administrative policies, oversees departmental activities, and ensures effective coordination among different departments.
  • Budget and finance: The city administrator works with the finance department to prepare the annual budget, monitor expenditures, and ensure financial stability and accountability.
  • Strategic planning: The city manager collaborates with elected officials and stakeholders to establish goals, objectives, and strategies for the city’s growth and improvement.
  • Personnel management: The CAO oversees human resources functions, ensuring compliance with employment laws, developing personnel policies, and promoting a positive work environment.
  • Policy implementation and evaluation: The city administrator monitors the progress of initiatives approved by elected officials, evaluates outcomes, and makes recommendations for improvement.

However, the specific responsibilities can vary based on the municipality’s size, the local government’s structure, and the elected officials’ priorities.

Pay and Notoriety

City administrators receive competitive compensation packages that reflect their expertise and responsibility for the role. 

Per, city administrators average $80,200 with a range of $68,034 to $95,256 annually. Factors such as the economic resources of the municipality, cost of living, and population size may affect the pay. 

Notoriety-wise, city administrators are highly regarded within the local government and administrative circles. Their managerial skills and leadership abilities earn them respect as they ensure effective and efficient public service delivery to the community. 

eScribe Powers Effective City Councils

Technology improves the effectiveness of city councils by streamlining processes, enhancing communication, and increasing transparency. eScribe, a government meeting software company, understands these needs and offers valuable features to support efficient and productive council meetings.

eScribe provides a comprehensive set of tools and functionalities tailored to the unique requirements of government meetings, all at pricing that makes sense for local leaders. The platform facilitates collaboration among stakeholders with features such as:

  • Meeting management including minutes and voting
  • Workflows such as submission and approval
  • Digital documents that greatly reduce the need for paper

See the real-life impact eScribe has on local governments in the City of Greensboro case study.