Council kills request for detailed meeting minutes

Planning commissioners upset about the city ending its practice of keeping a written record of meeting discussions didn't get a break from the City Council on Tuesday.

City Council members voted 4-3 to not go back to the old "summary minutes," which detail the discussions made by the council's advisory boards. That was despite a strongly worded letter from planning commissioners saying that the new action minutes were "of little use," showing only the results of a vote.

"I'm disappointed," said Planning Commissioner John McAlister. "It's time-consuming as it is to find out what was going on. Residents will find it harder to find out what's happening in Mountain View."

Council members Ronit Bryant, Laura Macias and Jac Siegel were in the minority in calling for a return of summary minutes.

"The summary minutes from the meetings of our boards is a tool that I as a council member have lost,"' Bryant said. "We spend a lot of time selecting people for the boards. When we ask people for advice, we don't ask for a yes or no answer."

"I never understood that there would be a gross loss of details," Macias said of the new action minutes.

A city staff report found that most other cities in the area use action minutes for the City Council and detailed summary minutes for planning commissions. The council decided to move both the council and the city's commissions and committees to action minutes last year.

Mayor Mike Kasperzak said he wanted to give the new minutes another six months because city staff promised to better summarize discussions in staff reports. Plus, he said, the city makes audio and video recordings of most meetings, though only the City Council and planning commission's are posted online.

"I don't think it's time to change yet, we need to see this out," Kasperzak said.

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga said she had watched the planning commission meetings "and for me, if I want to understand a topic, that is the easiest way to get a true discussion."

Bryant objected to that idea, saying she watched a planning commission meeting once and "it took me four to five hours. I cannot do that every two weeks, it's just not feasible."

Kasperzak and others put their hopes in time-stamping the video and audio recordings to make it easier to listen to only the parts you want to hear.

"We need to continue to improve the process so people can get more quickly through the audio or video tape," Kasperzak said.

The city will save $4,000 a year in transcription costs in not providing summary minutes for the planning commission, development review committee and zoning administrator meetings, according a staff report.

No other advisory board or commission opposed the move to action minutes, though Bruce England of the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee said his committee was intending to send its own letter to the council.


Like this comment
Posted by SteveH
a resident of North Whisman
on Jan 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I'm confused. When did "summary minutes" mean detailed discussion before the committee/commission? Wouldn't that be "detailed minutes"?


Like this comment
Posted by Great
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jan 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Now I have to watch a 4 hour video to know the positions people took at the meetings instead of reading/skimming a 5-10 page document. Government transparency isn't always efficient or cheap. At $4000 per year this was not exactly breaking the bank.

Like this comment
Posted by Seriously?
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jan 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Not only was the $4,000 a miniscule amount (especially as part of a multi-million dollar budget), it's not clear the amount will even be a savings, or just a reduction in workload. Is anyone's pay being reduced by eliminating this work?

Aside from making our government less transparent, this really devalues the work of commission members, as council and the public won't have access to the thoughts that came before the vote.

Like this comment
Posted by bkengland
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 16, 2012 at 7:30 pm

My impression from comments during the Council meeting is that council members would like to see how it goes during the next six months or so and then (possibly) take this up again for discussion. Meanwhile, if you have an opinion or suggestions about this issue, I strongly urge you to send your thoughts to Council (and ask that advisory committees, commissions, and boards be copied) through this web page: Web Link

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