Planning and Zoning Board debates details required in meeting minutes

The Planning and Zoning Board this week had a discussion about the level of details in its minutes.

Joseph D. Griffith, director of permitting and land use, had directed board clerk Phyllis Leggett to write more concise minutes than she had been writing, as a way to free up time for her other responsibilities as secretary in the Planning and Zoning Department.

As a result, the Aug. 19 board minutes had far less detail than previous minutes, which included specific comments from residents at public hearings, and remarks and questions from board members during discussions.

In the Aug. 19 minutes, residents are listed by name, address, and the fact that they were opposed to the Colonial Toyota zone change. For motions, those minutes listed who made and seconded a particular motion, and the vote by board members.

Board vice chair Jeanne Cervin had the matter placed on the agenda because she said she felt the board should decide the level of details in the minutes, since Leggett works for the board in that capacity.

Griffith told the board that Mayor Benjamin Blake (D) had contacted him about the issue. “We are trying to manage resources in our office,” said Griffith, in part by including the minimal amount of information required in meeting minutes.

“We do have a lot of other work to do in our office,” said Griffith, adding that in case of an appeal, attorneys will use the meeting recording as their basis for information.

Griffith said the city attorney recommends keeping the discussion out of the minutes because in the case of disagreements the minutes are “not as accurate as the recording.” He said the city attorney recommends limiting the minutes to attendance, the motions, and who voted. For staff reports, the minutes can refer to the written documents, he said.

In response, Cervin said, “I have great sympathy for Phyllis, but we are elected officials and we owe something to our constituents to be transparent. People look up minutes online and may not have the time to view the DVD.”

Cervin said she finds the detailed minutes from large public hearings to be “extremely helpful” when having a discussion about a proposal, and she also likes to see the specific comments board members have regarding applications.

Supporting her position, board member Jim Quish said, “It's a great resource” to have the detailed minutes. He questioned if the board could hire a company to take the recording and place a transcript on the website.

Discussing the challenge of creating minutes, Leggett said typing what each person says “is very time consuming” and she does not want to paraphrase what a board member says because that might distort what they meant.

By consensus and without a formal vote, the board supported Board Chairman Benjamin Gettinger's directive to “leave it to Phyllis' discretion. If we think things can be added, we could ask to add them.”

Griffith said he told Leggett, “Don't try to paraphrase,” adding, “There is a definite danger to pick out of the public comment what you deem to be the important thing.”

Gettinger said, “You would think in 2014 you could put the whole audio on the website.”