Recently, Carroll Commissioners announced they would no longer publish minutes of board meetings.
***Below are my emails (last to first) with Carroll Co. Board abt No Minutes ***
Ms. Windham, Thank you for your quick and detailed response. I clearly was off-base in my use of “transcripts” – apologies for the mis-direction. I have spent some time now looking at the links and suggestions you sent me, again, thank you. Once I figured out the tools, I am impressed with the features and information that is provided online. Please continue to guide/educate me (and the public).
However, after looking over the archives, I am now more confused/concerned than before. In summary: the minutes are not that extensive, but appear to be the only written summary of what actually happened at the meeting. My issues are:
- Need a summary of the outcomes/announcements/decisions of the meeting.
- Need a word searchable media (ie, written).
- The reasons for stopping minutes are vague – no quantitative explanation of the savings.
- The backup examples given for stopping the minutes (other counties) does not appear to be accurate.
- The effort for minutes, appears minimal compared to the overall effort made to provide pre-meeting written information.
- Why I care: I am dependent on the CCTimes and local active groups being able to efficiently monitor and report on the actions of my local government – so I can be better informed.
At http://carrollcountymd.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx, there are meeting links. There is an agenda, and an agenda package: good information for preparing and running the meeting. There is a Video of the actual meeting: a detailed recording of the meeting. From the video, there is a marvelous page that links the Agenda to the Video: clicking an agenda item jumps to video.
However, it is the minutes that create a written document of what was actually decided and/or announced in the meeting. I found it odd that the the video links to the agenda (made prior to the meeting) instead of the minutes (the summary of actual events). For example, ironically, if you look at the 1/24 morning meeting, there is NO indication at all of the decision to stop providing minutes. So, the ONLY way to have visibility to this action is to watch the video. And, since I don’t know what happened at the meeting (that was not on the agenda), then I don’t know where to look in the video – I have to watch it all, to see if there are any surprises.
Additionally, it is rather surprising to think that the board does not want, for their own needs, a summary (minutes) that states what was decided or announced – ie, the outcomes. I would think you would have links to the video from the minutes – thus allowing me to click on the meeting minutes comment about stopping minutes and then seeing the announcement on video. As it was, I had to watch the video from the start – to find the announcement at minute 16 (thanks, I guess, for not announcing it at an hour and 45 minutes). The minutes are not very detailed, about 4-5 pages with big print; a person can skim the minutes very quickly and see if anything “exciting” happened. The video takes a couple of hours. I am aware minutes can be a pain. My guess is it is difficult to get the commissioners edits back in a timely manner. However, it seems you need a written summary record. Maybe there is a streamlined approach to the minutes that captures the events that can then be linked to the video.
When I saw that the commissioners were planning to drop the minutes, my first and primary concern was for the people that work far harder than me to stay informed and active in important activities in the county. It seems to me that dropping the minutes will only make it harder for these people to stay informed, so that I can stay informed.
Commissioners, I feel good about this board. You have some very difficult issues with funding (schools). I appreciate efficiency. I like that yall are focused on Carroll County (notce, I did not once try to tie the minutes issue to some revolutionary or constitutional issues). I apologize for the length – I just wanted to be clear.
Randy Linville, Eldersburg
*** below edited for format only – response from Commissioner’s office ****
From: Windham, Roberta J. <email@example.com>
Dear Mr. Linville,
Thank you for expressing your concerns regarding the elimination of written minutes. Operating an open and transparent government is very important to the Board of County Commissioners (BOC). To that end, Carroll County Government offers a variety of ways for citizens to observe and stay informed about commissioner meetings.
All our meetings are open to the public, but if you are unable to attend, you can watch meetings on our public access channel (24), our YouTube channel, or the meeting portal from our website. We also have various social media sites – Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, Flickr and Twitter you can use to follow what’s happening in Carroll County. Carroll Connect, powered by GovDelivery, is the free digital subscription service improving the lines of communication between the government and the citizens.
Carroll County Government is proud to be ahead of the curve as far as transparency because recordings are the most accurate and objective format to keep our citizens informed and are therefore the optimum transparency. Although local governments are not required to close caption their meeting videos, for three years we have streamed our meetings to the county YouTube channel, which allows close captioning for those watchers who like or need that assistance. Meetings have been and will remain easily searchable. Users can search by topic to find the subject matter in which they’re interested and then, using the meeting points embedded in the video, go directly to the topic of interest. The agendas and briefing papers used during the meetings have been and will continue to be associated with each meeting video on the meeting portal.
Regarding your concern about transcripts. Minutes are not transcripts. They are simply a brief summary of the issue and the action taken. This information has been and will continue to be available through the agendas, briefing papers and the voting record (Meeting Media Points) which are available with each meeting video. The voting record is a written record of agenda items and decisions and therefore still is an abbreviated and valuable accompaniment to the video. Given the technology available today, actual production and approval of the minutes is antiquated, redundant and not the best available record of what took place during the meeting. Making the video the actual record gives citizens a true and accurate picture of what occurred rather than a synopsis with the potential for interpretation. In addition, meeting minutes can take weeks to be approved, but recordings are available within hours or days. The BOC is always looking for ways to streamline and improve access and believes recording and streaming archives is not only the most efficient, but also the most indisputable method.
Please follow these links to check out the variety of options citizens have for following Carroll County Government. We believe you will find full information which is readily available.
Thank you again for contacting us with your concerns. If there are remaining questions regarding the variety of methods to access the meeting information, our staff is happy to meet with you personally to review the options
Roberta J. Windham, Esq., County Administrator
***** my email to the Commissioners *****
From: randy linville [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, January 26, 2019 11:29 AM
To: Commissioners; Frazier, Dennis; Rothstein, Edward; Bouchat, Eric; Weaver, Richard; Wantz, Steve
Cc: email@example.com; VOCALcarrollcounty@gmail.com; Carroll Values Education
Subject: CCT article – dropping written transcripts
I strongly disagree with dropping written transcripts of commissioner meetings. Video cannot be searched nearly as easily as text. Try searching a video for “video transcripts”. It is 2019, so use voice-to-text technology or maybe there is something better these days. The examples of other counties that have dropped transcripts fell flat. This is reduced transparency, not increased. Use tech to improve, not go backwards.
Are there some great savings to drop transcripts? What is the cost to use tech? Seriously, it is easy to search text for a word or phrase, go and try that with a video. What really is motivating this change? A cynic would say you are intentionally trying to deduce transparency (seriously, I do not assume that is your intent), but this seems to have been decided without much input.
I do appreciate the intent of efficiency. Randy Linville, Eldersburg