Supes may shrink their minutes

6/11/08 Update: At the afternoon session of their meeting today, the supervisors have voted to retain the near-verbatim method of keeping minutes, according to County Spokesperson Lee Catlin. "We're very committed to the process of open government," said Catlin, noting that the the Board aims to keep the backlog of archived minutes to two months and will allocate up to $35,000 toward achieving that target.
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Albemarle County residents could soon face another hurdle toward holding their Supervisors accountable. In what's being billed as an efficiency move, the six member governing body will consider changing the record of board meetings from "near-verbatim" to "summary" style minutes at its Wednesday night meeting.

"Near verbatim minutes is the ultimate transparency in government," says Ivy resident Lynda Harrill.

The Board currently provides a record of all dialogue at the meeting. While the paraphrased pages may provide a thorough record, Albemarle Community Relations Director Lee Catlin said record-keeping could be more efficient if the summary style is used.

Summary minutes typically include only the votes, resolutions, ordinances, and a summarization of the meeting discussion. They do not, however, go into the specifics of the discussion, such as what individual supervisors said.

For citizens who wish to know the specifics of discussion, Catlin has an online suggestion.

"Podcasting is where you would go for detail," Catlin said, adding that the number of podcast listeners has significantly increased since the county began posting the podcasts in December 2006.

But Harrill, a frequent critic of the Supervisors, contends that while podcasting is a good supplement, it is no substitute for the near-verbatim minutes.

"It would be a very tedious process to match up the summary with the podcast," says Harrill, adding that archived minutes have an important historical value.

Minutes of meetings dating back to January have yet to be posted on the County's website, and Catlin blames the backlog on a heavier workload and smaller number of board staff members. From the 2000 to 2007, according to one County report, the total hours spent in board meetings has increased 43 percent, yet the number of board staff has actually decreased since 1991.

Minutes preparation is currently outsourced to transcriptionists who require four hours for every hour the board meets. So a set of minutes for a single six-hour Board meeting requires approximately 24 hours for transcription and an additional three hours for proofing and editing.

"The money spent on transcription is money well spent," says Harrill.

While Catlin wasn't able to specify the amount of money such a change would save, she says that the minutes would definitely get updated more quickly.

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19 comments

Guess we'll all have to learn how to use the Freedom of Information ACT (FOIA) to get the information we need from our Supervisors and County Staff

We shouldn't let them get away with this. Is the cost issue a red herring?

Awesome - higher taxes AND reduced service. These guys are GOOD.

Any reduction in citizen oversight of government officials is a dangerous mistake.

Even with the ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??near verbatim¢Ã¢â??¬ record, there has been inaccuracy and missing information from past BOS meetings. I have researched some past meetings and compared the minutes with tape recordings. Important comments that provided accuracy and the true flavor were completely missing from the minutes.

Whether intentional or accidental, incomplete and inaccurate information which prevents complete public oversight can and will lead to abuses of power by government officials in any area of government. That is a historical fact of life.

There should be no reduction in the written record. Instead, the written record should be verbatim and not the incomplete ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??near verbatim¢Ã¢â??¬ with its wiggle room for certain omissions. Additionally, with today's technology, complete audio records can and should be kept as well.

All elected officials and many government employees have much control over the lives of citizens and how our money is spent. There should always be greater government accountability and citizen oversight, not less. With reduced record keeping there will be reduced accountability and oversight.

Does anyone know how much the supes make and what are the benefits?
I might give up farming to become a supe.

Hey before everybody gets all "Mr. Crankypants" on the BOS please remember that all the meetings are turned into podcast and every word is recorded. Perhaps minute digest would add more repeatability to the proceedings not less. Not everything that is said is law or more than discussion. That said, the meat of any minutes are the actions that are passed. Those must be exact and precise, that is when law is created.

Mr. Mansoor you need to come down off your high horse given that you were responsible for the the most mean spirited ads ever used in a local election. I supported Denise Lumsford still wish you hadn't aired that diatribe. If was, of course, your right to do so and I not suggesting it should have been banned. Rights aside, I thought it polluted the process.

The city uses some form of summary minutes and it is very difficult to hold a councilor accountable for his views since so few are included. I have noticed that the most vocal of the county residents seem to be over fifty, so maybe they're hoping that a large number of them don't feel comfortable listening to podcasts and won't try to listen to them. Also, podcasts can not be Googled as extensively as minutes. This sounds more like employees asking for less work while they get salary increases.

Quote: Mr. Mansoor you need to come down off your high horse given that you were responsible for the the most mean spirited ads ever used in a local election. It was, of course, your right to do so and I not suggesting it should have been banned.

You aren't serious, are you? How do you ban the truth?

Obviously, your opinion of the ads is just that, one opinion.

Sick Of The Local Rambos- Freedom of speech works both ways. Your red herring of implying that I wanted to ban the ad puts your reading comprehension in serious doubt. The facts of the ad were less than compelling, there were many facts that were left out. The scary music and shoddy production values that caused the debatable facts to depend on emotion rather than logic or the law. All hallmarks of an attack ad that lacks substance.

Answer me this, why didn't MS. Lumsford embrace the ad? She stayed as far from it as she could. It was a petty put up job that allowed people to settle old scores- it had little to do with furthering a political discourse.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant! Justice Louis Brandeis

Accountability is the best antidote! UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

D.R., when I said "How do you ban the truth?, I meant how do we as a nation ban the truth if it's out there? How do we as county residents ban the truth if it's out there? How do we as citizens ban the truth if it's out there? How do we as voters ban the truth if it's out there? I didn't mean YOU as in singular.

Umm SotLR, who is talking about banning the truth, besides you?

After you quote me, you then say "You aren't serious, are you?"
Then you talk about banning the truth. Than you say it's just my opinion. Yes, I do think you were talking about me and I have no idea why you think anyone wants to ban the truth.

Your explanation makes no sense.

D.R.
I stand by my post and I stand by any public statements I made during the last CWA election. Nothing but the truth was conveyed. If more time had been available and more could have been said it would only have reinforced that which was conveyed.

Most citizens are not aware of much of the behind the scene activities within the criminal justice system.

They need to be.

Mr. Mansoor if the purity of the truth is so clear why did Ms. Lumsford not endorse your ad or embrace your organization. Could it have been because of its mean spirited and overly dramatic representation of your truth and the "truth" of others in the ad.

There is a difference between truth and a vendetta- your ad seem more of the latter. Remember I say this as someone who wanted Camblos gone and still think your TV spot was line-crossing negative ad that diminished the process.

Further you have given no reason why a complete recording of the meetings would not be a better way to definitively record the meetings than a complete written transcript. With a written and audio copy of everything that occurred is like wearing suspenders and a belt. There might be a great reason for having both- I haven't heard what it is yet.

It's much easier and much faster to read the minutes than it is to sit and listen to a recorded copy. The recordings are not always clear and it takes much longer to rewind and fast forward then it does to turn a page to locate a particular part of a meeting. Both methods have their place and I think that both should be available.

D.R.

Please allow me to provide clarification.

The purpose of the campaign ad in question was not for it to be ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??endorsed¢Ã¢â??¬ by Ms. Lunsford. The purpose of the ad was to convey factual information to voters.

During the time of the past CWA election in Albemarle County, one of the purposes of the organization that sponsored the ad, Crime Victims United of Virginia (CVUV), was to endorse one of the candidates. CVUV endorsed Ms. Lunsford. CVUV does not exist to be ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??embraced¢Ã¢â??¬ by any candidate.

As far as ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??mean spirited¢Ã¢â??¬ goes, I think it was mean spirited for Jim Camblos to tell me how he wanted me to shoot a man who had lost three family members, his wife and two grand daughters, in a deadly vehicle accident.

I think it was very dangerous, in addition to mean spirited, for Jim Camblos to point and wave a loaded gun in front of me and others in an effort to show how fast he could draw the weapon from a holster and demonstrate how he would shoot at the man who lost three family members in the vehicle accident.

Additionally, I think it was very mean spirited for other Albemarle County police officers to be told to find any reason they could to arrest the man who lost his wife and two grand daughters if that man was found to be tending to the crosses by the road commemorating the death of his loved ones.

Finally, as it relates to the ad in question, Jim Camblos himself, while first being completely inaccurate, eventually acknowledged that the information in the ad was accurate although he did not want the media to disclose that. He wanted to keep that ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??off the record.¢Ã¢â??¬ http://cvuv.org/media/Camblos_Says.wmv

In reference to your query about recordings and written transcripts; written transcripts are much easier for the public to search when trying to find specific information. Incidentally, ¢Ã¢â??¬Ã?â??near verbatim¢Ã¢â??¬ is not verbatim.

Actual audio recordings ensure the written records are accurate. A recording also gives the true flavor of statements.

To sum it up using your example, if your suspenders break you might get caught with your pants down ¢Ã¢â??‰â?¬Å? better keep a belt handy.

In closing, please remember that my intent with my initial post was to support my strong belief for the necessity of significant government accountability and transparency. If you disagree, that is up to you.

D.R. said "That said, the meat of any minutes are the actions that are passed." To that I would add that the rationale behind the actions need also be recorded. If that had been so back in 1989 when the Branham-Timberlake parcel was divided into two distinct parcels and later, in 1993, when council voted to add the tract upon which the house stands to the list of individually protected historic properties, it would have been great to have had the intent recorded within the minutes. According to Mr. Coiner, the owner, and Mr. Huja, in charge of the project at the time as a city employee, there was never an intention to include the vacant lots in the historic designation. However, according to Kay Slaughter, a councilor at the time, it was clearly the wish of council to extend the designation over the vacant tract. It would have saved city staff, citizens, the Board of Zoning Appeals, city council and the courts a great deal of time. As it currently stands, we are left to relying upon people's recollections.
If the minutes are converted to summary, I hope that each supervisor will give a statement as to the reason he is voting for or against a proposal so that information can be included in the minutes. I know that several of our councilors were opposed to Mr. Schilling's employing this procedure, but the children are gone now.

Karl Mansoor, thanks for the link.

Those interested in hearing the discussion from Wednesday's work session on this topic can listen in at Charlottesville Tomorrow. It's about 25 minutes long, and I apologize we weren't able to provide an index for this one.

http://cvilletomorrow.typepad.com/charlottesville_tomorrow_/2008/06/boar...