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Council to vote on proposal for abbreviated Council minutes

Original post made by Morris Brown on Dec 15, 2008


On Tuesday, Dec. 16th, Council is going to consider a formal policy which would change the type of minutes published for Council meetings.

The staff report:

Web Link

explains this issue pretty well.

Although the recorded video of the meetings, certainly gives really the best information as to exactly what went on in a meeting, limiting published minutes to "action minutes" in many cases is certainly going to give the other City commissions or the public little if any information about in what context the action was taken.

This will lead to less transparency on Council proceedings, which can only be cleared by individuals actually having seen the meeting or by going to the web site to review the meeting. This takes quite a bit of time and effort on the part of the public, weeding though long videos to find the relevant section.

So now their is a push to go to much shortened minutes, reflecting only actions taken by Council and nothing much else. A cost saving measure for sure, but to my mind, a whole lot more of the public will be kept in the dark as to what really went on in the meeting.

Considering the modest amount of cost savings, I think this is un-warranted. For a Council that has preached more community engagement, this would be a major step in the opposite direction.


Morris Brown
Stone Pine Lane
Menlo Park

Comments (7)

Posted by concerned, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 16, 2008 at 8:38 am

Action minutes are a disservice to voters. They indicate how elected leaders voted on a measure, but don't allow them to explain why. When I go to the polls, I want to be able to review how council members seeking reelection performed, and usually that means reviewing their votes on specific issues that are important to me. That's when being able to understand the reason behind their votes is important, and not understanding can be misleading about their true position on the issue.

Action minutes are a bad idea. I hope this council rejects the staff's recommendation and sticks with the summary minutes.


Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 16, 2008 at 10:10 am

Morris has it right. As a matter of public policy, more information is better than less. Non- actionable discussions are as important as actionable ones. Everyone's crap detector ought to be alerted whenever anyone recommends a reduction in the availability of information. The questions to be asked is: What's going on here? What is this really about?

It is often the case that recommendations by staff tend to benefit staff at the expense of the citizens of the city.

If the minutes are too long, make the council meetings shorter. They could benefit from selective pruning, by being more on task, and less on lengthy rhetoric or micro-management.

Open government demands full, clear (summary) minutes. "Action" minutes suppress far too much information.


Posted by Old Timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 17, 2008 at 7:03 pm

The idea of making the minutes even more abbreviated is the wrong direction to take if we a are a city that wants transparency from the council and participation by the residents. As one who has had to do research in the Menlo Park government for cases pending in court, the written minutes are essential for understanding issues before the council.

I recall the minutes by a city clerk from the past, was it Jan Carr? The minutes were often very late in their production but they were 99% perfect. She was the real pro in hearing correctly what had been said and getting it down on paper.

The Council should reject this idea.


Posted by New Timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 18, 2008 at 10:47 am

I think the notes being "abbreviated" is a good thing. I like to see "action items", it makes for a better read. Ironically, with this council, these notes will be very short! LOL If we have the video, combined with the "action items", I think this is good enough. It saves time, energy and waste. Plus, a video tape is FAR better than notes taken by an individual who may, or may not, really understand the context, or may come off focus during the meeting, or may not be very good at it.


Posted by Jaye fan, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

It was Jaye Carr, and she was a gem of a City Clerk. You could call her with any kind of question, and she's have the answer for you instantly.


Posted by there's reason for concern, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 21, 2008 at 12:29 pm

As much as I like to see the Actions Taken, it is very important for the public and future council discussions to have a written record of concerns raised by the public and the rationale for the positions taken by each council member. How will this be done? For complex matters, the only way staff, the public, or council persons would know would be to watch the entire prior discussions. Ain't going to happen.


Posted by New Timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Something "left to interpretation" is not a good way to retain history. Voice inflections, body language, words in or out of context, or just plain old missing something that should have been captured in the notes, is just a receipe for shoddy record keeping.
Example: Did the current council actually approve of the curb cut @ Oaknoll or not, during that October meeting? Watching the video, you didn't see genuine support, the notes were very different. Again, just an example, not trying to get crazy political here.


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