July 22, 2022 By Carol Britton Meyer
Town Clerk Carol Falvey, who just began her second year in this elected position, finds her new role to be a good fit for her background and continuing desire to serve the Hingham community.
"It's been a learning process. Every day I learn something new," she told the Hingham Anchor. "Now that I have the first year under my belt and have gone through everything once, I'm in a [good] place, because I have some experience."
Falvey noted that while the 2021 race for Town Clerk was focused in large part on the election-related part of the job, she actually performed very little work regarding elections during her first six months in the position.
That's about to change with the upcoming Sept. 6 state primary and Nov. 8 state election. There's also the Nov. 1 Special Town Meeting for which to prepare.
Among the Town Clerk's responsibilities -- beyond the huge task of administering and overseeing numerous local and state elections -- are issuance and distribution of vital records -- including birth, marriage, and death certificates -- and registering about 2,500 dogs and issuing about 300 business certificates on an annual basis. "We also issue raffle permits!" Falvey said.
Elections involve registering Hingham citizens to vote and processing absentee and early voting applications. "This past year we also oversaw the reprecincting of Hingham to include a new precinct 7," Falvey said.
The Town Clerk's Office also handles public records requests; serves as the collector for parking violations; provides historical research for both residents and municipal offices; conducts the annual street list census; administers the multi-faceted Bare Cove Park off-lease dog-walking permit process; fields questions from the public and municipal employees; and serves as the town's link with the Secretary of the Commonwealth on various matters, including elections.
Advocate for voter registration
"I've always been a big advocate for encouraging people in my family to register to vote, including my nieces and nephews when they were old enough to do so," Falvey said. She recalled bringing her son, Jake, and one of her nieces and a friend to register to vote several years ago when Eileen McCracken was Town Clerk.
Falvey explained how the election demographics have changed in Hingham over the years. "As of May 4, 2022, Hingham had 19,318 registered voters: 11,949 unenrolled in either major party; 4,513 registered as Democrats; and 2,691 enrolled as Republicans and the balance in other parties such as the Libertarian and United Independent Parties."
Falvey credits her civicmindedness and love for the town to her late parents, Bob and Charlotte Falvey, who were always supportive. Her father, who she referred to facetiously as "the unofficial mayor of Hingham," was a beloved and out-spoken figure around town -- especially at board and committee meetings and at the Annual Town Meeting, where he shared his thoughts and opinions about various topics affecting the town for which he had so much affection.
After Falvey's election to Town Clerk last year, numerous people who stopped by the office on business asked if she was related to Bob Falvey, while some had known her father and were happy to see her in this new role. "I feel as if he's here with me a little bit of every day," Falvey said. "He would be happy to see me in this position. I feel as though he is smiling down on me."
Falvey expressed appreciation for the other members of the Town Clerk's team -- Assistant Town Clerk Angela Kelly and Senior Clerk Jennifer Donnelly.
"We really had a whole new staff last summer," Falvey recalled. (McCracken was retiring and members of her staff had moved on to other positions).
"Eileen and I interviewed the candidates for both of the [above-mentioned] positions, and we're all fairly new and in it together," Falvey said. "It's wonderful working with them both. They're so helpful in serving the public."
The Town Clerk's Office, located right by the front entrance, is the first place where visitors stop when they enter Town Hall looking for directions or other information. "It's our responsibility to take care of all the tasks [assigned to the Town Clerk's Office] as properly and professionally as possible and to help everyone who walks in the door," Falvey said.
"It's an interesting and varied job, with a lot to juggle."
Falvey felt welcome at Town Hall from her first day on the job. "There's a sense of camaraderie, and I appreciate the professionalism exhibited by the staff working in various departments," she said. "I attribute these qualities to the Town Administrator's and Select Board's office, because they set the tone at Town Hall. I have to give them kudos, because it starts from the top."
With her background in the legal profession, Falvey said she finds working with Town Legal Counsel John Coughlin on various matters and experiencing his approach to problem-solving to be both interesting and helpful.
Background fits well with new role
After attending law school, Falvey worked at a small firm in Boston before branching out on her own. While serving on the School Committee from 2011 to 2017, she found that she didn't have as much time to pursue her legal career. "It was like having a second full-time job," she said.
That said, Falvey has found that her legal background lends itself well to her new position.
She recalls talking with then-Town Clerk McCracken some time ago about the position. "Everything was stable at that time" so she moved on to other things.
"What prompted me to run last year were the events of Jan. 6 -- the insurrection in an attempt to overturn a vote and efforts made to intimidate election officials," she explained. "As discouraging as that was, I knew that in my own town I could do what I needed to do to ensure the Town Clerk's Office was in good hands and that Hingham's elections would continue to be run the way they have always been run -- free, secure, and fair."
Falvey went on to say that she knew that if she was elected "no one could intimidate me to change the results. They are what they are -- sometimes disappointing, but you can't intimidate people because you don't like the [outcome]."
When asked how administering her first election went this past May, Falvey said she found the experience "very interesting."
Donnelly had been involved with another town's presidential election in 2020 in her hometown so had some practical experience. "It went pretty well, with lessons learned for the next two elections," Falvey said. These include posting better signage and better displaying the handicapped parking spaces, which will be accomplished with assistance from the Hingham Police Department and the Department of Public Works for future elections.
Other than a few challenges, the election went well, she said. "It was great to meet all the candidates and answer their questions."
While The Town Clerk's Office inherited a competent election staff from when McCracken was in office, more election workers are needed, with the ability to work half-a-day, according to Falvey.
During the 2022 town election, she started a weekly election update of who had taken out and returned nomination papers and other information. This was one of the first steps toward her goal of "being proactive rather than reactive overall in prioritizing the responsibilities of our office over the next year," she said.
Longtime Hingham resident
Falvey moved to Hingham with her family in Jan. 1966, where she grew up. Later, while attending the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, she found that one of the things besides her family that she missed the most was the ocean.
"Hingham is home for me," she said. "My two siblings also still live in town with their families, and my brother has a business here. It's the place we all love. I particularly like the sense of history and the ocean and the fact that there is so much volunteerism. It's impressive."
Over the years, Falvey has served on various PTOs and was president of the Hingham Education Foundation before running for School Committee. "I helped do a lot of fundraising for the schools, which are near and dear to my heart," she said.
In her spare time, Falvey loves to cook and garden -- including herbs, tomatoes, squash, and dahlias -- and to visit the Hingham Farmers Market.
Falvey appreciates the support of her husband, Mark Van Dine, and her children, Allie and Jake Van Dine.
Allie, a lawyer, recently got married and lives in Washington, D.C., and Jake -- a mechanical engineer -- lives in Hingham.
"My family and my parents [earlier] have always been super-supportive," Falvey said.