A Matter of Minutes
At Tuesday night’s Council meeting, the minutes for the first four meetings at which we spoke were on the agenda for approval. As expected, they did not reflect the nature of any of our comments. The clerk either ‘misunderstood’ the points we made, or ignored them altogether. This inane effort to pretend everything is coming up roses during the meetings is completely out of hand.
I pulled the minutes from the Consent Agenda to address concerns about the integrity of the record. Because there were five sets of minutes included as one agenda item, it was clear I could not cover them all in the three-minute time limit. So, I submitted a separate speaker card for each of the four meetings I wanted to address. I opened my remarks by telling the Council what I had done and respectfully requested their indulgence in allowing me to finish my comments without interruption.
It didn’t work, but l guess the outcome made for a pretty interesting show. The video clip is about 12 minutes long and is definitely worth a watch.
Did you notice in the video how the Mayor was absolutely intent on keeping me from getting through my comments on the September 17 meeting? As l mentioned to him, that’s because he knew what was coming next.
September 17 was the meeting at which the March 5 minutes debacle occurred, but more importantly, it was also the meeting at which l exposed the Mayor’s crazed Facebook rant. The difference is that l originally exposed it during Business from the Floor, when the Council Chambers were virtually empty; last night l was speaking during the Consent Agenda, in front of a packed house.
I was also unable to point out that, in addition to having denied the existence of the March 5 memo, the clerk had responded to our Public Records Request for the backup documentation related to it by stating that “Nothing exists that is responsive to your request.” Well, now that we all agree the memo exists, rest assured we will be demanding the supporting documents again.
Is it just me, or would you also agree that having received a request for the backup documentation in August, the clerk might have thought it prudent to go back and watch the meeting video to make sure her recollection was correct? She sure made a big enough stink about our records requests disrupting her life. Perhaps watching the Council meeting video would have been a better way to spend her time than giving that television interview griping about how we were trying to destroy the City by asking for public information.
And here’s some alarming news: According to the Mayor, the official record is neither the video nor the minutes. Apparently there is an expand-o paper file somewhere in the clerk’s office that contains any items that were not included in the agenda packet, not posted to the web, and/or not identified in the minutes. Somehow, citizens must divine that there might be a document of interest in the paper records — even if its existence has been denied. If true, shouldn’t that gap in the public’s web access to City Council public records be called out somewhere on its information page?
Councilmember Schwab was the only one who seemed to acknowledge the importance of having a correct permanent record, and l applaud her for continuing to stand up for what she believes is right, particularly in the face of the ongoing condescension and mockery from others on the Council. Although she and l are miles apart politically, she has the courage of her convictions, and my admiration for her continues to grow. Truth matters.
Councilmember Sorensen’s comments were a bit disturbing. If you watched the video clip, you saw how aggravated he was about the Council being asked to “tinker with the minutes… especially post-mortem.”
Well, l agree that Council should not have to tinker with them. The clerk should get them right before she puts them on the agenda for review; that’s her job.
The ‘post-mortem’ remark is puzzling, though. When, exactly, do the minutes become post-mortem? Is it when they are placed on the Council agenda for approval? If so, how can anyone comment on or tinker with them ante-mortem? Just wondering…
He also seemed to be suggesting that as long as the minutes get done, their accuracy is immaterial. Maybe in his view that is true; however, as l mentioned during my comments, inaccurate minutes are a disservice to the public. How else can a citizen who is unable to attend meetings get a true accounting of what happened, unless he or she has hours to spend watching entire meeting videos? Why even bother with minutes if there is no requirement for them to be accurate?
What really disturbs me most is Sorensen’s comment that the minutes are action only, and Business from the Floor is not an action item. To me, that screamed foreshadowing.
One thing we at Truth Matters have struggled with on an ongoing basis is whether we should publish predictions about the Council’s next dumb move, to try to head them off at the pass and prevent it, or allow them to go ahead and do the dumb thing and then call them out on it afterward. In this case, I am going to go with making a prediction, because the official record is important stuff. Perhaps when Sorensen reads this (and we’re quite sure he will), it will dissuade him from suggesting what I suspect he is already considering.
So, here goes: I predict that the Council will direct the clerk to change the Business from the Floor section of the minutes to a simple list of persons who addressed them, with no description whatsoever of what was said. This is what the clerk already does with other agenda items. The problem with changing Business from the Floor to a list of speakers is there is no detail in the agenda that would identify the topics. It would make the clerk’s and Councilmembers’ lives easier, for sure, but it would be a horrible disservice to the community.
If they wanted to add service to the community, they could certainly do that by moving Business from the Floor to the beginning of the meeting. As it currently stands, people wait through hours of bureaucratic double speak and political grandstanding just to get their 3 minutes in front of the Council. There are many communities that provide that courtesy to the citizens, including Hemet, which hears Communications from the Public immediately after the Consent Calendar. (As an aside, Hemet also provides an opportunity for public comment on Closed Session items, which I addressed in a previous post.)
If you’re interested, here is what was left unsaid last night, due to the Mayor’s interruption: Remainder of Minutes Presentation
Based on the reactions of Sorensen, Stone, and Gruendl, one would think I had asked the clerk to spend her entire life doing something irrelevant. All I want is the truth, because it matters.
We thank you for your continued readership. As always, your questions and comments are welcome.
Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!
Photo credit: escunited.com
Posted on November 21, 2013, in Free Speech, Meetings, Public Record Response and tagged Ann Schwab, Chico City Clerk, Chico City Council, Chico Minutes, Deborah Presson, Mark Sorensen, Scott Gruendl. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.