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Minutes Not Hours


One of the most important jobs of a municipal operation is the recording of the minutes from the various public meetings. These records are intended to last for perpetuity and provide those in the future a look into just what the officials were dealing with and how they handled it. Once approved by the elected board, it becomes a permanent record available to the public to allow review by interested parties. The technique of providing a good set of minutes can be challenging for some. Cluttering them with word-by-word detail is NOT the correct procedure. Concise well, written minutes offer a general overview, including topics of discussion, and list any formal action taken during all public meetings.


In my first year as a township manager, one of my councilpersons was an English university professor. She taught me some great lessons on how to get the most out of the minutes. The basics of the discussions were simply this. The minutes should be written in a way that, even if the reader has no prior history of that set of recordings, they should be able to comprehend the discussion. The inclusion of who, what, when, and where goes a long way in making the minutes understandable to anyone interested in them. It is essential to realize that approved minutes may be needed for various government activities, such as grant applications and loan/bond requests. If you find yourself in a legal debate, one of the first things any good attorney is going to request is a copy of the meeting minutes.


It goes without saying that all motions and votes should be detailed. However, I find it interesting that the Second-Class Township Code clearly states the need for minutes and how they are to be stored and protected, but nowhere does it note how the minutes should be written. The following is taken directly from the code itself:


ARTICLE VIII
Section 605. Minutes and Records.
(a) The board of supervisors shall provide for the recording of minutes of its proceedings and other books it may find necessary in the performance of its duties. The records shall be made available to the board of auditors during the annual audit. Unless the custodian of the records agrees otherwise, the records shall be audited or inspected at the place where they are normally maintained. Supervisors who leave office shall deliver all township records in their possession to their successors or to the township secretary.
(b) All township records required to be recorded or transcribed are valid if typewritten, printed, photostated or microfilmed, and, where recording in a specified book of record is required, including minutes of the proceedings of the board of supervisors, the records may be recorded or transcribed in a mechanical post binder book capable of being permanently sealed, with consecutively numbered pages with a security code printed thereon and a permanent locking device with the township seal being impressed upon each page, or bound book with pages being consecutively numbered by transcribing directly upon the pages of the book of record, or may be attached to the book of record by stapling or by glue or any other adhesive substance or material, and all records previously recorded or transcribed in any manner authorized by this section are validated. When any record is recorded or transcribed by attaching the record or a copy of it to the book of record, the township seal shall be impressed upon each page to which the record is attached, each impression covering both a portion of the attached record and a portion of the page of the book of record to which the record is attached.
(c) Original or certified copies of ordinances may also be stored in a locking or mechanical post binder book, capable of being permanently sealed, without being fastened onto pages in the binder.

So we have clear guidance on how to keep the minutes as part of the official township record, but no guidance on how to write them. I have reviewed a number of municipality's minutes and for the most part they do appear to be concise and contain the proper amount of detail. In contrast, though, I have read versions that are, almost literally, in the weeds.


A hypothetical example: “Mrs. Jones attended the Supervisors meeting to talk about the grass and weeds growing along the sidewalk. She said she tries to keep up with it, but not all the neighbors have been able to do as well as she does. She added that she was recently sitting on the front porch drinking sweet tea, when her neighbor Bob Johnson stopped by to talk. He said he has difficulty edging the portion of his sidewalk due to the thickness of the turf and his ongoing back problems. The discussion went for several more sentences beyond this.”


This is far too long and involved. A more effective way to write these minutes would have been something like this: “Barbara Jones of 102 East Street informed the board of a potential problem with grass on the publicly owned sidewalk in her area. The Manager said that he would have Public Works look at the situation.”


Keep it short and to the point. After all, they’re called “Minutes,” not “Hours.”

 

About the Author

David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at david@keystonemunicipalsolutions.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.


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