School board expends many minutes approving meeting minutes
Updated 12:23 am, Monday, July 20, 2015
Minutes, those records of proceedings at meetings of town boards and commissioners, traditionally generate little or no controversy.
The meeting records routinely are approved by their respective board or commission, sometimes with minor changes or corrections. Board members not present at a particular meeting may abstain, though they are not required to do so. And the public is rarely, if ever, invited to weigh in on the approval process.
But that’s not usually the case at Board of Education meetings these days. Approving the minutes is routinely a point of contention between board members, with one particular set from a May meeting still unapproved as of last week.
At the board’s seven-hour-long special meeting last week, seven sets of minutes from earlier meetings awaited approval, including the minutes from May 19, which had previously failed to pass muster in a 4-4 vote, with one abstention. Those minutes fared no better at last week’s meeting, again failing 4-4-1. Board member John Llewellyn, in particular, takes issue with the way his comments and positions were reflected in the meeting.
Chairman Philip Dwyer told the board members they are required to file minutes for all meetings with the Town Clerk’s office.
Only one of the seven sets of minutes was approved unanimously. The vote on the others were 6-3, 7-2, 6-3, 8-0-1 and 5-4.
At issue is what the minutes reflect from a meeting. The board has been trying to adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order, which does not call for a transcript of what was said at a meeting, or even detailed discussions.
Instead, it calls for minutes to record motions and votes. The board’s bylaws now require that the minutes contain a list of speakers on each side of a motion or question, “with an abstract or text of each address.” The minutes also contain a notice that a full recording of the meeting is available. The meetings are also aired and taped by FairTV.
Robert’s also states, “The name and subject of a guest speaker can be given, but no effort should be made to summarize his remarks.”
“It’s my understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order that minutes are a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said,” Dwyer said.
Beaumont Street resident Jan Reber addressed the board on the issue of minutes, which he said are the legal record of what occurred at a meeting. “Omissions from minutes create inherent inaccuracies,” he said, adding the May 19 meetings don’t “record the thoughtful comments from the public.”
“This is America for god’s sake,” said another resident, Nancy Haberly, who simply stated her address as “Fairfield.” “Why don’t we want to hear what people’s opinions are? This is really scary to me. It’s freedom of speech.”
The public is allowed to address the school board members at meetings, although there is no legal requirement for the board to to do so, as there is at land-use board public hearings
Board member Donna Karnal said perhaps the board should take a vote on how members want the minutes done.
“It’s an annual conversation, but we haven’t been able to find something we can all agree on,” Dwyer said.
According to the board’s records, the previous configuration of the board, which sat from December 2011 to November 2013, approved 38 sets of minutes, all but two unanimously. The current board has voted on 47 sets of minutes, of which only 10 were unanimously approved.