Sunday, February 8, 2009

Meeting Minutes Minutiae

The whole brouhaha over SOME citizens' comments at school board meetings (like maybe those that the district doesn't care for) being excluded (while others are not) from the attachments to school board minutes] has highlighted the issue of meeting minutes. As usual, this prompts a number of questions.

  • What does the LAW require for minutes?
  • What are the schools of thought regarding minutes?
  • Is the school board consistent in how meeting minutes are prepared?
  • Is meeting the minimum requirement for minute-taking in the best interest of the community--or even in the best interests of board members?
What does the LAW require for minutes?
The law does not mandate the keeping of detailed.
The Wisconsin Open Meetings Law COMPLIANCE GUIDE FEBRUARY 2007 says,
The open meetings law does not require a governmental body to take detailed minutes of its meetings. Other statutes, however, may impose such requirements. ...The open meetings law requires a governmental body keep a record of the motions and roll call votes at each meeting of the body. [Wis. Stat. § 19.88(3).] The recordkeeping requirement can be satisfied if the motions and roll-call votes are recorded and preserved on a tape recording. If a member of a governmental body requests that the vote of each member on a particular matter be recorded, a voice vote or a vote by a show of hands is not permissible unless the vote is unanimous and the minutes reflect who is present for the vote. The requirement applies to both open and closed session meetings. "Consent agendas," whereby a body discusses individual items of business under separate agenda headings, but takes action on all discussed items by adopting a single motion to approve all the items previously discussed, are likely insufficient to satisfy the recordkeeping requirements of Wis. Stat. § 19.88(3).

Dr. Culver adds [from a recent e-mail response to a resident on the issue]:
The concept of "yellow card" does not exist as policy. There are policies that may be relevant to your request. The first is POLICY BDA: BOARD MEETINGS, which states in part that, " The minutes will contain: 1) the kind of meeting; 2) the name of the society or assembly; 3) the date and time of the meeting; 4)the presence of the regular chairman and or secretary; 5) whether the minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved; 6) all main motions, including the wording of the motion and its disposition; 7) secondary motions that were not lost or withdrawn; 8) all notice of motions; 9) all points of order and appeals; and 10) the hour of adjournment." And further, "...The testimony by district residents, School Board member reports, and District Administrator reports will be recorded and available by request at the district office but will not be included as part of the official minutes."

What are the schools of thought regarding minutes?
As you may have guessed, there are 2 schools of thought: (1) that minutes should reflect the bare minimum: who was there, what motions were made, by whom, and what was the vote.

The other school of thought is that minutes should serve as a "trail of breadcrumbs", so to speak. They should capture the essence of discussions on each agenda item, paying particular attention to concerns or questions raised and how --or even IF---said concerns were to be addressed.

The following websites represent a sampling of both conventions:

Minutes of Meeting Tutorial -
"Minutes are a record of the proceedings of a meeting e.g. who attended and did not, discussion that took place, action to be taken, time the meeting closed. "

How many times have your colleagues been confused or in disagreement about what happened in a meeting? With minutes to refer to, everyone is clear.
What most people don’t know is that meeting minutes shouldn’t be an exact recording of everything that happened during a session. Minutes are meant to record basic information such as the actions assigned and decisions made. Then, they can be saved and used for reference or background material for future meetings relating to the same topic.
Concentrate on getting the gist of the discussion and taking enough notes to summarize it later. Think in terms of issues discussed, major points raised and decisions taken.

Is the school board consistent in how meeting minutes are prepared?
Not completely, no.

The minutes from the meeting of the full board look different from minutes coming out of board committees. In fact, we LIKE the minutes recorded by the Education & Policy committee (chaired by John Whalen). The minutes of those meetings effectively capture key discussion points during the meeting.

Compare the minutes from a recent school board (of how much use are these in capturing how they got to where they did?) to minutes from a recent Education & Policy school board committee meeting (way to go, John Whalen! These clearly capture the discussion and concerns voiced). We--the community can clearly see (transparency of government, folks) and follow along with the thought process involved (or ignored, or not even considered) in making a decision. [SP-EYE- Anyone want to bet that there will be a drastic change in the how the minutes for the Ed&Policy are recorded from now on? Hmmm...we wonder how that little communique will take place. Think da Prez will give Johnnie a call at home and urge him ---off the record--- to change things? Or will Culver call on the carpet the District staffer who records/writes the minutes and "counsel" them in the proper taking of minutes? ]

Is meeting the minimum requirement for minute-taking in the best interest of the community--or even board members?

Sun Prairie prides itself for being a leader, but we've seen in a number of instances that the school district seems to prefer taking the "bare minimum" approach. During discussions about compliance with SAGE, Dr. Culver's comments clearly reflected doing the absolute minimum to remain in compliance. After several days of no school due to weather, Dr., Culver stated that a "day of school" had to be made up, but went on to state that DPI minimal requirements to count as a "day of learning" were to have 4 hours of that's what Culver did...hold school for the morning ONLY of a recent Friday that was scheduled to be a day of no-school. At the last school board meeting when several residents spoke about about their comments being excluded from the minutes while others were not, Dr. Culver again emphasized what the law requires as a minimum and that the school board minutes meet that minimal requirement.

Board does this [philosophy of doing the bare minimum to get by] affect student achievement?
If you think the kids aren't watching, you've got another think coming. This "do as we say, not as we do" mentality has to stop.