Long-time Canton Town Clerk Linda Smith set to retire this week
By John Fitts
CANTON – While there are perhaps residents who have garnered more fame, notoriety, popularity or Instagram followers, anyone in the know realizes that the Town Clerk is central to all things Canton. Linda Smith has served in that role since 2004, following three years as assistant town clerk.
“I think that the job is the face of the town for most of our residents and Linda is a friendly face – a helpful, compassionate person,” said Richard Barlow, who served as first selectman from 2007 to 2015 and grew up while his mother Barbara was serving as town clerk. “She just, to me, is the epitome of the kind of individual that you want people to recognize as the face of the town.”
As Smith notes in the town’s annual reports, “The Town Clerk’s Office is responsible for the organization and safekeeping Town records that include land records, maps and surveys, vital records (birth, death, and marriage), election and referendum results, justice of the peace appointments, dog licenses, sport licenses, military discharges, town ordinances, meeting minutes & agendas, trade name certificates, notary public appointments, transfer station permits and liquor licenses. The public has access to a majority of these records during regular business hours.”
Those who have worked with Smith – who is set to retire Sept. 8 – said she has performed those tasks admirably, while taking on additional responsibilities and, perhaps most importantly, done it all with friendliness and a vast knowledge of the town.
“To many, Linda Smith has been the face of Canton for many years,” said Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner. “As the Town Clerk she is often the first person people go to see when they are looking for information. But in Canton the Town Clerk’s role is so much greater. She also maintains the Town’s website, Facebook page and X (formally know as twitter) account. Most government activities publicized on social media originate from Linda Smith. She also plays an active role in the Town’s election process and acts as the meeting clerk at all Town Meetings.”
Smith spent her formative years in Waterbury and she and her husband have owned their Canton home since 1986. When the assistant town clerk position in Canton opened up upon the retirement of the late Beryl Cole – who died last December – Smith applied for the job. At the time, she had been a stay-at-home mom for her two young boys for approximately 8 years.
“One of my sons came home with a flier in his backpack saying there was an opening at the Town Hall for Assistant Town Clerk,” Smith said.
She knew little about the role but her previous experience as a manager at the Allstate Insurance Operations Department in Farmington, a Bachelor of Arts in marketing from the University of Hartford and a Master’s in Organization and Management from Central Connecticut State University all certainly laid a solid foundation.
Smith was hired as assistant town clerk in 2001. Kathy Corkum, the town’s first selectman at the time, was part of the hiring team.
“When [Linda] applied for the position, there were two people that we thought would be good town clerks,” Corkum said. “We offered it to the first one and she declined. And then I offered it to Linda, and this is what she said to me John. She said ‘I may not be your first choice but I’m going to be your best choice’ and she certainly was.”
“I think she’s been a wonderful town clerk,” Corkum added, noting that Smith was always accurate, knowledgeable and timely.
“I’m happy for her that she’s retiring but I’m sad for the town,” Corkum said.
While assistant town clerk, Smith learned the ropes in two ways. One was through formal training. Over her first three years while assistant town clerk, she took several of the state’s training classes, and subsequently passed her certification test.
But the day-to-day training came from Shirley Krompegal, who, having held the job since the early 1980s, was well versed in the role of Town Clerk.
And Krompegal says she had the perfect student in Smith.
“She was a wonderful worker, never made any mistakes,” Krompegal said. “ She’s a wonderful person. She did a perfect job. She was a little nervous when she applied for it because that just wasn’t up her alley, but I really think she loved it.”
When Krompegal retired, Smith applied for the position, which involved a competitive process and formal interview with not only town staff but also the Board of Selectmen. Smith started the role in 2004.
Smith has certainly seen a lot of changes over the years. For one, the way records are recorded, logged and archived has changed dramatically.
“Things were a lot different back [when I started],” Smith said. “There was a whole lot more paper. We had one computer in the office; now we have six computers in the office. Everything was done by hand. The vital records were a manual process. The only thing that wasn’t at the time was the land records. We did have one computer that we put the land records into.”
And it’s not just a matter of keeping up with technology. State laws and agencies mandate the requirements of record keeping and even today, many are also still preserved on paper, carefully organized in the town’s vault.
In more recent years, Smith has added that entirely new aspect to her job – one that circles back to technology. In 2007, the town launched a web site, and the services and records available online has greatly increased over the years. Over the years, Smith has played a key role in keeping the web site updated and training staff from other departments in how to post agendas, minutes, records, packets and other vital information.
And it’s in the area of social media that Smith really took another leading role in town. That started in 2011 during the October storm that led to a power outage of approximately 10 days, the opening of the town shelter and numerous emergency responses from the town’s first responders.
“I wasn’t on social media at the time but I knew that was a good way to communicate with people, so my son helped me set up the town’s Twitter (now X) page and we put out a lot of information.”
That included updates about the town’s shelter, downed trees and other hazards, where to find clean water and a shower, and so much more.
Over the years the social media presence expanded to include daily information, key dates for elections and other important events and activities from the town’s non-profits and more. Facebook and Instagram accounts were added along the way.
“I wanted it to be a place where people could find information and get used to coming to these platforms for information so when an emerging situation came about that’s where our emergency information would be as well – so, it would be a natural point where they wouldn’t have to scurry to find information about what’s going on,” Smith said.
First Selectman Robert Bessel said Smith has excelled in the traditional duties of town clerk, as well as in the online realm.
“She’s really taken the job of town clerk and performed admirably for years and years and taken on the whole web thing. She just embraced and really ran with it,” he said. “She’s doing both realms extremely well – a really great resource to have.”
And in both worlds, Smith has worked hard to stay neutral when it comes to politics or town controversies. She compares the office to Switzerland and said it’s been easy to stay neutral with the mindset that she is simply providing information.
“I always try to give equal information to everybody and I appreciate the fact that want to volunteer their time. I may or may not agree with their politics but they want to volunteer their time in service to the town and I appreciate that. So, I want to give them all the information that’s necessary.”
That matter-of-fact attitude, of course, carries over to social media, especially when it comes to town votes or other matters.
“When I do put out information about an election or referendum, it’s just the facts,” Smith said. “The town can’t take a position, especially on a referendum. We just put the facts out there, approved by the town attorney. It’s just a matter of giving you the information, so hopefully you will show up on Election Day.”
Although so much of that information is online now, the town clerk’s job is still very much one of customer service, often in person.
Smith still helps many people at the window, recording marriages, births, deaths or selling various licenses or directing residents and professionals to the land-use office or other locations both within town hall and at other facilities.
She also transfers a lot of calls and answers a lot of email.
“A lot of times people start with ‘I’m not sure if you’re the right person to talk to’ and they tell me their situation and that’s when I know what other department to send them to, if I can’t help them myself,” Smith said.
For Corkum, Smith is consummate professional when it comes to returning calls or emails, or finding things quickly.
“I think she’s very responsive,” Corkum said. “If you go to her with something you need, you get it right away. She responds very quickly.”
To Smith said it’s not just her job. She truly enjoys helping people.
“If I can assist them, I like doing that,” Smith said.
Smith deals with a lot of records and licensing requests but she does have her favorite aspects.
“I think it’s the marriage licenses and the birth certificates because those are such happy occasions. People are coming here to get their marriage license and it’s a joyful time. Even thought it’s paperwork, it’s a joyful time. They’re looking forward to good parts of their lives.”
She also loves seeing people and growing families.
“Sometimes they’ve to got their little kids or their babies in tow,” she said.
Smith also loves seeing the residents she’s met over the years, some through sports and other activities in which her boys participated.
“I also enjoy seeing all the people... When the boys were growing up and had school functions and sports functions, I met lots of different parents and it’s fun to see them now,” she said,
When it comes to customer service, Smith has gone above and beyond in other ways. Sometimes, she gets questions that have little to do with the official aspect of the job.
She’s had people ask:
• ‘Will you help me set up my marriage ceremony?’ The answer: Yes
• ‘Where is the best restaurant to take a date? In Smith’s “humble opinion,” Green Papaya, Saybrook Fish House, and 110 Grill are some of the best choices.
• Do the grills used at the Lobsterfest ‘produce a lot of smoke?’ Smith doesn’t think so.
Smith has also been involved in many community efforts over the years. She’s a fixture at the Collinsville Halloween Parade and has worked with community partners on efforts such as the Collinsville Walking Tour and Driving Tours of Historic Canton. Information on those and other efforts can be found electronically at https://townofcantonct.org/ under the visitors tab.
In addition to serving residents, Smith said she’s going to miss daily interactions with her co-workers.
“We work with a great group of people here. I’m proud of the work that we do for the town,” Smith said. “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen a lot of changes happen and I know change is hard for a lot of people, but I feel that the work that these people do in this building and all the town buildings – the work that we do has made Canton a better place.”
“[Canton is] a great place to raise a family; it’s a great place to live,” she added. “And the work the town employees do has affected that and made it a great place to live and raise a family.”
Smith does have some plans for her retirement. First and foremost is time with her grandchildren.
“That’s what I’m looking forward to,” she said. “ I really don’t want to miss a moment of their young lives.”
She’s also looking forward to doing more reading. She loves everything from light summer reading from authors such as Elin Hilderbrand to biographies and autobiographies.
She also looks forward to having more time for baking.
“I enjoy baking and recently took a course at Sur la Table on croissant making. It is the type of thing I never would have tried before, but the chef at Sur la Table broke down the steps to the point where it isn’t so intimidating and now I actually make a ‘mean’ croissant. Needless to say, I’ll be spending more time at the Canton Public Library and in the kitchen.”
But as she plans to enjoy more time in her life after Sept. 8 Smith wants people to know that she is excited about the incoming town clerk – Tracy Morrocco, who is coming from a job as an assistant town clerk in Farmington.
Morrocco has more than 10 years’ experience, knows the town’s systems and is very personable, Smith said. They will also be working side by side for a short time to ensure a smooth transition.
“I’m so happy she’s accepted this job because she’s very qualified and I feel it will be a smooth transition, “ Smith said. “She uses the same software the town has, and is very involved, very personable. She’s ready to take on the challenge of the social media piece. I encourage the residents to come on in and welcome her to town.”
But there’s no denying that Smith has become a fixture and the change will be another that will take some adjustment.
“Whether it be working at her desk through COVID, being the first director with her budget completed or reminding the CAO to file a legal notice, Linda is always organized, prepared and ready to serve the community,” Skinner said. “She will be greatly missed.”
And Smith admits she is moving on from an important part of her life.
“I will miss seeing residents on a daily basis, working with good and talented people, and the work itself,” Smith said. “You don’t stay in a job for over 20 years without it becoming a part of you. So, while I feel I will take a part of the job with me when I retire, I also hope I left the office in a good place and will leave a part of myself behind too.”