Madeline Medina sits behind a large cherry wood desk at Bayonne City Hall.
Tchotchkes and photographs on the salmon-painted walls are left over from her predecessor, former Bayonne City Clerk Bob Sloan, who retired in May after 40 years at the helm.
“I never really thought about becoming city clerk,” revealed Medina, 53, who started in 1991 as a clerk typist and took over Sloan’s position in June. “As everyone retired, and I picked up more responsibilities, I realized it was possible.”
She is the first woman city clerk in Bayonne history.
Sloan is coming to retrieve the desk “sometime soon,” along with a few boxes of papers and books. Medina plans to repaint the walls a blue-grey and bring in a new chair and modern desk that can be converted to a standing desk.
In the meantime, Medina is transitioning from coworker to boss.
“You were one in the group. Now you have to get serious,” said Medina, who has grown very close to everyone at the city clerk’s office in her 28 years there. “At the same time, you don’t’ want to be excluded from your coworkers.”
One of the biggest hurdles for Medina as deputy clerk was being respected and taken seriously as a young woman. She recalls one mayoral inauguration over a decade ago when the new administration did not set a seat for her when Sloan specifically requested one.
“I was young, a woman, and everyone here was in his sixties,” she said. “It took time.”
The Bayonne City Clerk is the engine that powers city hall. Medina has spent the last 12 years as deputy city clerk, sitting next to Sloan at the monthly council meetings and assisting in all the administrative functions of the office.
Bayonne Mayor James Davis asked Medina if she would accept the job in the fall of 2018. She received official notice that she would be appointed city clerk in October.
“Mayor Davis had the faith in me when he asked,” said Medina. “It’s nice to be recognized for what you do and what you’ve done.”
The city clerk flies under the radar partly because he or she operates behind the scenes in a largely administrative role. Medina keeps city hall running smoothly by handling vital records, preparing city council agendas, and coordinating with nearly everyone in municipal government.
“I don’t think [the general public] appreciates the hard work involved,” Medina explained. “People think that it’s sitting behind a desk during meetings. There’s a lot of background work that needs doing. You have to work with every department, from engineers to finance, overseeing bids and contracts and vital records.”
Medina, who has lived in Bayonne all her life, grew up in a public housing building on 18th Street, attended St. Mary’s grammar school and St. Aloysius High School in Jersey City. She received a city clerk certification and associates degree from Taylor Business Institute before being hired as deputy clerk in 2006.
The deputy city clerk and city clerk role require constant education. She regularly attends seminars and classes to keep up to date.
She anticipates one of her biggest challenges will be to transition the office to “semi-paperless,” which will require a lot of document scanning and new technology and software. She is carrying the baton from Sloan who transitioned the office from typewriters to computers in the 1980s and 1990s.
Cheerleaders at home
“My kids are my biggest cheerleaders,” said Medina, who has three children, all in their twenties and thirties. She has seven-year-old twin grandchildren. When she was officially notified of her new position, she said her children cried out of pride.
“It was very emotional for all of them,” she said. “They’re very proud.”
Two of her children have graduated from college. None plan to pursue careers in municipal government.
“Believe it or not, I steered them away,” Medina said. “I gave them the advantage I never had and paid for their school. I’ve opened the door, now you run with it.”
Medina is the first woman of color to serve as city clerk. She says her career is a testament to how persistence pays off.
“Being a woman of color now shows a woman of any nationality that it’s possible,” Medina said. “I think a lot of people hold themselves back instead of saying I’m going to do it. I’ve always told my children you can’t know what you can do until you’ve tried.”
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