Residents looking for written reports of what went on at Menlo Park City Council meetings will get summaries that are briefer than the ones they're used to -- for the next three months, at least.
The council decided unanimously at its Tuesday, Dec. 16, meeting to authorize the use of a more streamlined form of meeting minutes, on a trial basis. Council members said that they would like to hear input from residents on which system they prefer before the council decides whether to stick with the new style of minutes.
The city hopes to compensate for the briefer minutes with a more detailed indexing of the videos of council meetings, which can be accessed on the city's Web site. The form of minutes the city currently uses, called "summary minutes," not only records how council members voted, but also includes a brief description of what was said by everyone who spoke at the meeting.
The new style approved by the council, "action" minutes, would include only a barebones list of actions taken by the council (including how council members voted), along with one-sentence summaries of announcements and presentations, according to City Clerk Margaret Roberts. Ms. Roberts will prepare more detailed "summary" minutes for items involving an appeal, and at the request of a majority of council members for items they think the public might be especially interested in.
In a letter to the City Council e-mail log, Menlo Park resident Morris Brown argued that streamlining minutes would make city business less transparent, making it more difficult for residents to get information about the context in which decisions are made at meetings.
Councilman Andy Cohen voiced similar concerns at the meeting. "It seems to me that we are moving away from transparency, toward opaqueness -- at best," Mr. Cohen said, adding that the heavier reliance on video recordings might make it difficult for residents who aren't as familiar with computers to follow the meetings.
But council members said they hope more precise video indexing will allow people interested in watching council meetings to skip to specific sections of the meeting, rather than wading through recordings of an hours-long meeting to find what they're looking for. Ms. Roberts also noted that VHS tapes and DVDs of the recorded meetings are available at the Menlo Park Library, and in her office.
Ms. Roberts cited the time and cost of preparing "summary" minutes as another reason to make the switch. She estimated that she spends 20 hours per week preparing minutes for the council -- an expense of $71,380 per year. Action minutes, on the other hand, would take only about 90 minutes to prepare, Ms. Roberts said.