East Bethel votes to continue transcribing meeting minutes verbatim

The East Bethel City Council voted 4-1 March 6 against changing the city’s current practice of transcribing council meeting minutes verbatim and instead creating summary minute reports. Only Councilmember Heidi Moegerle voted in favor of the change.

City staff had asked that the council to consider making the change primarily due to the inordinate amount of time currently spent by staff to prepare transcription minutes. In a memo to the council, City Administrator Jack Davis said that an estimated 20 to 30 hours of the city clerk’s time is spent each month preparing minutes.

Davis said that changing from transcribed minutes to summary minutes could reduce the city clerk’s time for this duty by at least 50 percent, and those time savings could be applied to the increased demands of updating and maintaining the new website and other areas.

“I’m absolutely opposed to it myself,” said Councilmember Tom Ronning. “The minutes are the official recording of the meeting.”

Councilmember Ron Kollar said he’s been reading through a lot of the city’s old minutes lately and is finding a lot of information he didn’t know. “I guess I’d have to say that I like them [the minutes] in detail,” he said.

According to  Moegerle, she reads the minutes with pen in hand and put in the commas and capitalization and all of those kinds of things.

“I think there is an emotional attachment I have to seeing the written document….” Moegerle said. “But I also think that we have entered the electronic age as witnessed by our website, and that it’s valuable to be able to watch as much as read.”

Moegerle thought the sample summary minutes from the city of Forest Lake (provided to the council by city staff as an example) gave a good summary of the issues covered, she said. “So I’m persuaded that summary minutes is the way to go,” Moegerle said.

“Who will summarize, in their view and opinion, what was said?” asked Ronning.

According to Davis, the city’s deputy clerk would compile the summary minutes, which he would then review. Mostly the summaries would record who made what motion and who voted for and against each, Davis said. However, the option to transcribe meeting minutes verbatim would remain as needed, he said.

Councilmember Robert DeRoche said he has found that city residents value transparency and communication. “Electronic age or not, we’ve got a lot of aging seniors,” he said. “Some don’t have Internet, some of them have no idea what a DVD is and so they use the minutes… some of them have trouble hearing the meeting on cable.”

“For what it’s worth, and I appreciate both sides of the argument, the city of East Bethel is one of the last remaining cities that presents their minutes in this manner,” said Davis. “Again, it is a very inefficient way and not a good use of staff time, but I also appreciate the instant accessibility to… the written word.”