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FROM: ASSISTANT CITY MANAGER/CITY CLERK
DATE: OCTOBER 17, 2006
SUBJECT: FORMAT OF CITY COUNCIL MINUTES
Authorize the City Clerk’s Office to prepare summary minutes for all televised City Council meetings and detailed minutes of all non-televised City Council meetings.
The City Clerk’s Office has been preparing detailed minutes of City Council meetings since October 2001. Due to the increasing length and frequency of Council meetings, the cost and turn around time to prepare the draft minutes has steadily increased since that time. In addition, the City has experienced significant minute taker “burn out,” with one of the City’s two most experienced contractors resigning and the other requesting an immediate hiatus just within the last two weeks. With the advent of webcasting and archived media on the Internet, it is time to rethink the mode of recording and reporting Council actions to the public. Therefore, staff is recommending that the City switch from preparing detailed minutes to summary minutes of all televised City Council meetings and preparing detailed minutes for non-televised City Council meetings.
Since FY 02-03, the City Clerk’s Office has used two contract minute takers to prepare detailed minutes of the City Council meetings. In FY 05-06, the turn around time for the draft minutes steadily declined from an average of 39 days to seven months due to the increasing length of City Council meetings. At the April 29, 2006 Budget Workshop, staff requested that the budget for minute takers be increased by in FY 06-07 in order to hire additional contractual help to eliminate the backlog and to accommodate the increasing length and complexity of the minutes going forward. Council delayed action on the requested budget increase and directed staff to prepare a report on utilizing summary minutes and on-line Council meeting video clips rather than continuing to prepare detailed minutes.
1. Current Status of City Council Minutes
Following the 2006 Budget Workshop, the City Clerk’s Office hired a third contract minute taker to help relieve the pressure on the two existing contractors and retained a professional transcription service to transcribe seven sets of minutes that had become backlogged during the early part of the year. Currently, the City Clerk has seven sets of draft minutes to edit and circulate for review (totaling 163 pages) and is waiting to receive four sets of draft minutes from the contract minute takers (totaling 15 ½ hours of meeting time). With the recent resignation of one of the minute takers and another requesting an immediate hiatus, it is uncertain at this time when the City Clerk’s Office will get caught up on the minutes.
2. Current Status of City Council Meeting Broadcasts
The first staff report concerning the format of City Council minutes was presented to Council on May 16, 2006. There was another item on the same agenda regarding Cox Communications concerns about possible mold contamination in the audio/video control room at Hesse Park, which had prompted the cable operator to prohibit its employees from using the room space until the issue was resolved. As a result, Council continuing the item concerning the format of the minutes until the issues with Cox Communications regarding audio/video control room and placement of the robotic cameras are resolved The remedial work in the City Council Chambers has now been completed and Cox Communications resumed use of the audio/video control room on September 19th. At the May 16th meeting, Art Yoon with Cox Communications agreed to review of the placement of the robotic cameras in the Council Chambers to see if any advances in technology were available to improve the camera angles. This review is still in progress. Prompted by the recent loss of one minute taker and a hiatus requested by another, staff is requesting that Council reconsider the format of the minutes prior to the resolution of the camera angle issue.
1. Types of Minutes
Minutes can be prepared in several different formats. Once approved, the minutes become the official record of what took place at the meeting and may be subpoenaed for court purposes. The only legal requirement for the content of minutes is contained in Government Code Section 36814, which states “The Council shall cause the clerk to keep a correct record of its proceedings. At the request of a member, the city clerk shall enter the ayes and noes in the journal.” The Government Code is silent regarding the “style” and whether the minutes should be action, summary, detailed or verbatim.
Action Minutes: Records the meeting date, indicates whether the meeting is regular, adjourned, special or emergency, notes the meeting location, starting and ending times, names of Council members and staff present, lists the speakers and whether they were in favor or opposed to the item, indicates the motions made, the name of the maker and seconder, and the vote, whether by roll call or by voice, any statement of by a Council Member that that person announced was “for the record;” and a statement of the action (minute order, resolution or ordinance).
Summary Minutes: Contains all the items included in action minutes and presents a brief summary of the Council’s discussion points.
Detailed Minutes: Contains all the items included in action minutes, plus a detailed record of all discussion, including extensive commentary by members of the public and City Council. The comments of each speaker range from a few sentences to a few paragraphs.
Verbatim Minutes: Provides an exact transcription of what was said at the meeting and are prepared by a court reporter or other similar service.
2. Current Practice
From the City’s incorporation in 1973 until late 2001, the minutes of City Council meetings were prepared in summary format primarily using in-house staff. Once the draft minutes have been prepared, the City Clerk, City Manager, pertinent City staff and City Council review them before they are approved and considered final.
On October 2, 2001, Council directed the City Clerk to begin preparing detailed minutes of City Council meetings (see attached staff report and except minutes from that meeting). During the first eight months of preparing detailed minutes, the City Clerk’s Office used a combination of in-house staff and contract minute takers, but switched to using contract minute takers exclusively in July 2002 when the City Clerk’s Office was reduced from three full-time employees to two.
Although the number of Council meetings has fluctuated over the last seven years between a low of 30 in 2003 to a high of 43 in 2005, the length of the minutes has increased dramatically in the years since the City Clerk’s Office began preparing detailed minutes in October 2001:
The chart below compares the cost of preparing minutes since FY 99-00:
It should be noted that staff is unable to accurately determine the cost of preparing the minutes prior to FY 02-03. As mentioned previously, in FY 99-00, FY 00-01 and FY 01-02, the City Clerk’s Office had three employees. Prior to switching to contract minutes takers, the Deputy City Clerk attended the City Council meetings and prepared the draft minutes. Most of the transcription time was conducted during regular office hours and the overtime costs were generally for her time attending the Council meetings. The figures presented in the chart for in-house staff cannot be verified without conducting a lengthy review the old time sheets. This is because part of her overtime may have been engaged in other activities, or could be attributed to the other non-exempt employee or may be inaccurate because the Deputy City Clerk sometimes took compensatory time off in lieu of paid overtime.
3. Changes in Technology
In 1996, the City began posting the City Council meeting agendas on its website. Following a significant upgrade of the site in 2000, the City began linking the associated staff report to the items listed on the meeting agenda. Since August 2001, the City has provided live and on-demand broadcasts of City meetings from its website, which allows for complete and unedited viewing of City Council meetings. Commencing in August 2002, further improvements in technology have allowed the City to link video clips from the meeting to each item listed on the Council agenda. As a result, if Council members, staff and members of the public with access to the Internet can avail themselves of the convenience of accessing the City’s web site at any time of the day or night and watch the entirety of the Council’s discussion on a given item. The viewing software operates in the same way as a tape player, with volume, stop, pause, and fast-forward controls. Internet users must have Real Player installed (a 14-day free trial is available by download from the City’s website).
The written minutes are the official record of City Council meetings and are permanent records of the City. Likewise, the digital recordings of the City Council meetings are permanent records of the City. Since October 2001, the City Clerk’s Office has produced detailed minutes of the City Council meetings. The length of time and cost required to prepare detailed minutes has increased substantially since that time. Since August 2002, the City has linked video clips from the broadcast of the City Council meeting to the meeting agendas posted on the City’s website.
It was suggested at the April 2006 Budget Workshop that Council consider discontinuing the City’s current practice of preparing detailed minutes and switch back to summary minutes. If the City returns to summary minutes, the City Clerk’s Office is prepared to transcribe detailed minutes for Council meetings that are not recorded for broadcast and can prepare detailed excerpt minutes from past meetings when so directed by Council. Staff is seeking concurrence from Council that the advances in technology that have occurred since 2001 obviate the need to prepare detailed written minutes for televised Council meetings.
Preparing summary minutes would significantly decrease the current cost of contract professional services by at least half and possibly more. Although there is no direct fiscal impact, it would also significantly decrease the turn around time for the preparation and adoption of draft minutes.
Staff Report and Excerpt Minutes from October 2, 2001