Riverdale Expansion Plans:
At the last school board meeting, Supt. Manuel reported on the Riverdale project. It has been approved by the Germantown Design Review Board. We thought you might want to take a look at the plans presented. Click the links below to see them.
What started out last week as a suggestion by Natalie Williams to streamline the board's minutes has now turned into questions about whether the board is keeping the appropriate records of their meetings.
It has been a longstanding practice of the board to hold a work session a week or so prior to their business meeting. But recently, there have been some changes to the meeting schedule. Now, the board conducts its work session and business meeting on the same night. That has caused some confusion among folks who thought the purpose of the work session was to review information in advance of the business meeting and give board members sufficient opportunity to digest information before voting.
To further complicate matters, the school board has apparently not been keeping minutes for its work sessions. So when the board started holding its work sessions immediately before business meetings, it seemed like agenda items were being discussed during the work session when the board does not keep minutes then voted on at the business meeting when minutes are required. Now, the board seems to have adopted another new practice of not allowing any commentary in the minutes from board members about their votes. This has raised questions about whether it is proper to bifurcate the discussion from the vote.
Here is what the Comptroller's Open Records Counsel has to say about it:
Even though a governing body has the ability to convene prior to a publicly noticed meeting for what many local governments refer to as “work sessions”, these work sessions should not be used as a means of circumventing the requirements of the Act. If at any point during a work session members of the governing body go beyond exchanging information and receiving reports and begin making decisions or “weigh[ing] arguments for and against a proposed course of action” or engaging in the “type of debate and reciprocal attempts at persuasion that would be expected to take place at a . . . meeting, in the presence of the public” and the governing body “as a whole,” then a meeting is occurring for which there must be adequate public notice and recorded minutes. Neese v. Paris Special School District, 813 S.W. 2d 432, 435 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990) (quoting BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 384 (5th ed. 1979)) and Johnston v. Metropolitian Government of Nashville and Davidson County, 2009 WL 4738730 at *11 (Tenn. Ct. App. December 10, 2009).
The law calls for the minutes of a meeting to be “promptly and fully recorded” and that they be “open to public inspection.” They “shall include, but not be limited to a record of persons present, all motions, proposals and resolutions offered, the results of any votes taken, and a record of individual votes in the event of roll call.” It also says that all votes must be public, and cannot be secret either by secret ballot or secret roll call.
Some administrators or clerks working for governing bodies try to withhold drafts of minutes until they are approved by the body, usually weeks later at the next meeting. Since drafts of minutes are not exempt under the Public Records Act, they are a public record open to inspection. If a governing body audio- or video-records a meeting, those recordings are also a public record from the time created. In fairness, news reporters and others should identify draft minutes as “drafts” since they could be corrected at the next meeting.