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Public testimony placement in minutes


Bruce Wolfe
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Please do feel free to say if this question is inappropriate for this forum.

I am a public official and sit on an administrative quasi-judicial government body that oversees open meetings and public disclosure law for our city. We are having a bit of debate about what a passage's intent means in our governing open meetings law that pertains to meeting procedure. I thought my many years of practice in parliamentary procedure that the parliamentarian community may be a good place to check in albeit constitutional and legal construction subject matter experts. 

That said, the passage goes like this: " Any person speaking during a public comment period may supply a brief written summary of their comments which shall, if no more than 150 words, be included in the minutes."

It is the phrase highlighted in yellow that is of concern. Before I give any further context or example, I would appreciate some comment on what folks think this means on the face of it with regards to placement in the minutes.

Thank you for your indulgence.

Bruce Wolfe

 

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5 hours ago, Bruce Wolfe said:

Please do feel free to say if this question is inappropriate for this forum.

I am a public official and sit on an administrative quasi-judicial government body that oversees open meetings and public disclosure law for our city. We are having a bit of debate about what a passage's intent means in our governing open meetings law that pertains to meeting procedure. I thought my many years of practice in parliamentary procedure that the parliamentarian community may be a good place to check in albeit constitutional and legal construction subject matter experts. 

That said, the passage goes like this: " Any person speaking during a public comment period may supply a brief written summary of their comments which shall, if no more than 150 words, be included in the minutes."

It is the phrase highlighted in yellow that is of concern. Before I give any further context or example, I would appreciate some comment on what folks think this means on the face of it with regards to placement in the minutes.

Thank you for your indulgence.

Bruce Wolfe

 

Welcome to the forum! I think the highlighted phrase says what it means and means what it says. If a member of the public addresses this public body and supplies a summary of his comments not exceeding 150 words, the written summary must be Included verbatim in the minutes.

Note, however, that this appears to me to be more of a legal question and a matter of interpreting the laws and rules that you are subject to rather than a question of parliamentary law. Have you asked the city attorney for his opinion on this? If so, I would be interested in knowing what that opinion is.

Edited to add: in other words, I think the quoted provision in state law trumps the rules in RONR regarding white should be in the minutes.

Edited by Richard Brown
Added last paragraph and corrected typo
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1 minute ago, Richard Brown said:

Welcome to the forum! I think the highlighted phrase says what it means and means what it says. If a member of the public addresses this public body and supplies a summary of his comments not exceeding 150 words, the written summary must be Included verbatim in the minutes.

Note, however, that this appears to me to be more of a legal question and a matter of interpreting the laws and rules that you are subject to rather than a question of parliamentary law. You asked the city attorney for his opinion on this? If so, I would be interested in knowing what that opinion is.

Well, that is a very good question regarding asking the city attorney but considering there is a plethora of experts here I am exercising as a first step to just see if there is some standard or consensus on the question. If a bunch of folks come forward to say, "Oh, there's an obvious/standard answer" and you all say the same thing then the question would be satisfied and I'll be on my way. If not, then I'll wait to for a few more folks to chime in before giving more information. The point being is if there is a standard either implicit or explicit because I'm in a conundrum.

But to answer your question above, in our transparency and open government law, there must be an ethical firewall between this body's legal counsel and the city attorney despite the former is assigned from the same office. The body has not sought legal advice on this matter as the 11-member body additionally includes, at least, one attorney appointed to the body. For more than the past decade, the body has held a certain position on this matter that while challenged by the city attorney in their advice to their clients (which is also a violation of the local law) all those found in violation have fully complied with the body's orders except for one, the main legislative elective body. Thus, there is a difference of opinion on the matter which, again, is why I'm inquiring in this most general of manners to see if there is a general best practice, a standard, a rule, etc.

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Mr. Katz, Thank you. Actually, there is no legal opinion nor is there any known publicly written opinion from the city attorney thus no other body of law or caselaw. When this happens the city defaults to RONR. I will say that the city attorney has offered simple advice and guidance that is not based in law which is counter to the good government laws that I am more concerned about. Without an official written public opinion from the city attorney, ordinance or caselaw, it is still up for interpretation which is why I am here asking your opinions.

Mr. Brown's response has contained an answer that the "written summary must be included verbatim in the minutes." The point being is location. So, keeping with location, do you have an response?

Edited by Bruce Wolfe
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11 hours ago, Bruce Wolfe said:

We are having a bit of debate about what a passage's intent means in our governing open meetings law that pertains to meeting procedure.

 

7 hours ago, Bruce Wolfe said:

Well, that is a very good question regarding asking the city attorney but ... . If a bunch of folks come forward to say, "Oh, there's an obvious/standard answer" and you all say the same thing then the question would be satisfied and I'll be on my way.

The standard answer is that you are asking us to interpret a law and that is not what we do here on this forum.

10 hours ago, Richard Brown said:

Note, however, that this appears to me to be more of a legal question and a matter of interpreting the laws and rules that you are subject to rather than a question of parliamentary law.

I concur with Mr. Brown.

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9 hours ago, Bruce Wolfe said:

Mr. Brown's response has contained an answer that the "written summary must be included verbatim in the minutes." The point being is location. So, keeping with location, do you have an response?

Setting aside the matter of the law at issue and looking solely at RONR (and setting aside that RONR says that comments should not be recorded at all), it seems to me that this would certainly be recorded in the body of the minutes, and not in the opening or closing paragraphs. Beyond that, it seems to me that it is at the assembly’s discretion. My experience is that assemblies generally record their minutes in chronological order, but nothing in RONR appears to strictly require this.

See RONR, 11th ed., pgs. 468-473 for more information on the content of the minutes.

Edited by Josh Martin
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10 hours ago, Bruce Wolfe said:

Actually, there is no legal opinion nor is there any known publicly written opinion from the city attorney thus no other body of law or caselaw. When this happens the city defaults to RONR.

What I was asking was why anyone in the organization was confused by this. But now I see that by "placement in the minutes" you don't mean whether it goes into the minutes or not, but rather where. I do not think the rule tells us where in the minutes these comments go, leaving it up to the body to decide when it accepts the minutes.

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11 hours ago, Bruce Wolfe said:

If a bunch of folks come forward to say, "Oh, there's an obvious/standard answer" and you all say the same thing then the question would be satisfied and I'll be on my way.

Well, the problem is that there is an obvious and standard answer, but that is that the remarks of people made during the public hearing phase would not be included at all.  I'm sure we'd all say the same thing on that.  The standard won't apply, however, if you have a specific rule that supersedes it, which you apparently have.

The clear meaning of that rule is that comments must be included in the minutes if supplied in writing and less than 151 words.

It might help us if you said what the gist of the disagreement was behind the "bit of a dispute" over this.  Given some actual positions we might be in a position to help you differentiate between them.

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I will weigh in with a lay person's interpretation, having no parliamentary credentials whatsoever, though I will admit to having college graduate level education.

My interpretation of your city's ordinance would lead me to accept incorporation in the meeting minutes by reference rather than direct citation within the body of the minutes.

In other words, I would expect to be given the same access to public comments properly submitted at a city meeting as provided for access to the minutes themselves.

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53 minutes ago, anon said:

My interpretation of your city's ordinance would lead me to accept incorporation in the meeting minutes by reference rather than direct citation w ithin the body of the minutes.

If by that statement you mean that the written summary provided by the speaker can be included as an attachment to the minutes rather than with the body of the minutes, I agree  perhaps. But, if you mean to say that there is no need to include the full text of the written summary, I disagree strongly.  The statute is quite clear that the full text of the written summary, if no more than 150 words, must be included in the minutes: I don't think there is any other way to interpret that provision.  I also do not believe placing the comments in some document or in some place other than the minutes complies with the statute.  In other words, having a separate "record book" of some kind of public comments would not satisfy the requirement that the written summary "be included in the minutes".

53 minutes ago, anon said:

In other words, I would expect to be given the same access to public comments properly submitted at a city meeting as provided for access to the minutes themselves.

What do you mean by that comment?  I do not understand it.   If you mean that you think it is ok for the written summaries to be included in something or in some place other than the minutes, I disagree.

Edited by Richard Brown
Changed "I agree" to "perhaps" in the first sentence
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On 1/20/2020 at 1:12 PM, Richard Brown said:

If by that statement you mean that the written summary provided by the speaker can be included as an attachment to the minutes rather than with the body of the minutes, I agree  perhaps. But, if you mean to say that there is no need to include the full text of the written summary, I disagree strongly.  The statute is quite clear that the full text of the written summary, if no more than 150 words, must be included in the minutes: I don't think there is any other way to interpret that provision.  I also do not believe placing the comments in some document or in some place other than the minutes complies with the statute.  In other words, having a separate "record book" of some kind of public comments would not satisfy the requirement that the written summary "be included in the minutes".

What do you mean by that comment?  I do not understand it.   If you mean that you think it is ok for the written summaries to be included in something or in some place other than the minutes, I disagree.

I mean the minutes could say public comments were made and are incorporated by reference in... [ give the location of public comments on file], or public comments were made and are incorporated by reference to attachment... [give the attachment serial id]. Either method should be acceptable in today's social media environment where access to anything and everything is within your fingertips. It does not make sense to dictate the administrative mechanism for formatting and filing records. The point is access to comments made during a city meeting should be as easy to view as it is to view the meeting minutes themselves. By stating the comments are incorporated they are made an official part of the record. No one needs to dictate to the city what the best format or filing system is for their records - just that they need to be an official part of the minutes and as accessible as the minutes are for public viewing.

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@anon, when the law says a written summary of the comments shall be included in the minutes, it says what it means and means what it says. “In the minutes” means in the minutes (or maybe physically attached to them) and not in a separate place or some other set of documents. State law (and even a local law) trumps RONR. 

Edited to add: Someone who requests a copy of the minutes of a certain meeting should receive the complete minutes, including the summary of the public comments. There should not be just a statement that “John Smith spoke on the plan to create a landfill just outside the city limits and submitted a 150 word summary which is available from the clerk upon request”. No. The 150 word summary should be part of the minutes and sent to him with his initial request for the minutes of the meeting. 
 

 

Edited by Richard Brown
Added last paragraph
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