BY PAULA MINAERT — Doug Barber, clerk for the city of Hyattsville, is leaving April 30 to become clerk for the city of Rockville. When he goes, a lot of history and knowledge will go with him.
Barber started working for the city when he was 15 years old, in 1988. As part of the now-defunct summer youth work force, and he mowed grass and worked in park programs.
“That’s how it all started,” Barber says. It was right around the time he moved to Hyattsville, when he was in 9th grade.
After that first summer, the city asked him to continue working on weekends. Among other things, he helped tend the Saturday flea market that used to take place in the former WSSC parking lot, next to Magruder Park. He was following a family tradition; his uncle and grandfather both worked for the city.
Barber worked in the recreation department until 1993, when he moved to the administrative offices. He took the clerk’s position in 2002.
People who work with him say they have relied on his long experience in the city. Acting Public Works Director Julia McTague, who was his assistant in the clerk’s office says, “He knows Hyattsville like the back of his hand.”
It’s more than knowledge, though. “He loves Hyattsville,” says Paula Perry, councilmember for Ward 4.
Essentially, Barber works to ensure the city runs smoothly. Communications Manager Abby Sandel says, “He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for keeping things moving.”
His dedication won Barber the Maryland Municipal Clerks Association award for Best Clerk of the Year in 2008.
Talking about his position, Barber says, “People hear the word ‘clerk’ and don’t really understand it. It’s much more than typing; it’s executive-level.”
A typical week for him begins with all the tasks necessary to get ready for the Monday night city council meetings. He sets up for the meeting and makes sure all councilmembers have their information packets. During the meetings, which sometimes go until 11 p.m. or later, he takes notes and oversees any roll-call votes.
During the rest of the week, Barber is in charge of following up on what happens at meetings. Tuesdays he records staff meetings and goes over the upcoming meeting’s agenda. Wednesdays he starts the minutes from the preceding meeting. Thursdays and Fridays, Barber prepares councilmembers’ packets and finalizes the minutes.
These tasks take place around his other duties, such as opening and recording bids from vendors wanting to do business with the city and acting as liaison between the staff and city committees. He handles resident calls and Freedom of Information Act requests.
Mayor Marc Tartaro said, “Doug has been an essential part of the City fabric for quite some time. My true understanding of his job only became clear when I assumed the office of mayor. He not only schooled me in what the office of Mayor entailed, he supported me in carrying out my duties.”
Former mayor Bill Gardiner talks about Barber’s commitment. “I remember leaving the city building late after council meetings and closed sessions, and Doug would be in his office preparing meeting minutes or agendas.”
Barber is responsible for all the arrangements for the Maryland Municipal League meetings, which Sandel says is the only formal training most city officials get.
“He has shepherded every piece of it for every elected official,” she said. “He shepherds the staff too, to make sure they get [training in areas like] the Maryland Open Meetings Act or tax increment financing. The hand-holding he’s done is well beyond what’s required.”
An important part of Barber’s job is accounting for what happens at council meetings. He’s responsible for procedures and policies and making sure members follow the legal requirements. For example, he steps in if they go to pass a motion and it hasn’t been read yet.
Former Ward 1 councilmember Doug Dudrow says, “We liked that if there was a debate on the council, he stayed out of it. He didn’t take sides, wouldn’t make comments. He is very professional. Why he hasn’t turned and said to us to grow up, I don’t know. He just won’t do that.”
Perry summarizes the prevailing attitude when she says, “I wish Doug the best of luck but am still upset he’s going. You can’t ask for a better person than Doug. I have so much respect for him.”
Tartaro remains philosophical.
“You could say that at our scale, he was playing in the minor leagues. [He has been] developing and working towards this day, to play in the major leagues at a significantly larger scale,” the mayor explained. “I wish him the best.”