School Board votes down recording meetings

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• Matthews: Public is welcome to tape public school board meetings

• McCarthy: Retirement date likely announced by March 7

A motion by Stonewall-Hawthorne district School Board Member Larry Grove to record all school board meetings, and to save each month’s meeting recording on a single copy audio disc for 30 days before being erased, failed to pass, by a 3-2 vote, with Hampton District representative Lucy “Pud” Maeyer the other pro-recording vote.

“My original question was: If a citizen were to read the minutes could they tell what we were talking about?” Grove said at last week’s meeting, re-introducing a concept to record meetings to provide more in-depth summaries of school board meeting minutes, which are provided in hard copy at the following month’s meeting. Grove had expressed concern about the vagueness of meeting summaries written by the School Board clerk.

“I did review our policy regarding meeting minutes . . . and we are in accordance with our policy,” board chairman Wes Mills of Jackson District said, as recorded by a Rappahannock News handheld digital recorder at the meeting. “I’ve read the copies of the supervisors minutes over the past few months, and I believe what we are doing is similar to what they are doing. So I would say our current method and detail should be sufficient.”

Maeyer, who seconded Grove’s motion, agreed with him that an audio recording could be helpful for board members to use as a reference.

“I’m sort of leaning toward the taping because if there are any questions, we’d have a tape to look to,” Maeyer said. “If there’s any question about what’s in the minutes, we don’t have anything but our memories to revert to.”

Grove said that some larger districts in the state not only record but videotape their school board meetings and live-stream them online, so making a single audio recording wouldn’t be too big a task

Superintendent Donna Matthews added during the discussion that she had spoken in the past with the school attorney, Rodney Young, and was dissuaded from keeping an audio record of meetings, because it is not required by school board policy. According to the policy, minutes shall include: the day, time and location of the meeting, members of the school board recorded as present and absent, summary of discussion, and a record of any votes taken.

“The reason the attorney would advise against taping the minutes is that we may say something that could get us in trouble, and that entire dialogue would be open to a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request, as long as that FOIA request was made soon enough,” chairman Mills said, noting that the current method of minute-taking is in accordance with school board policy. “Since the motion is on the table, I will tell you, if legal counsel says don’t do this, and we do it, we will as a group regret it. So you can count on me saying to keep things the same.”

When Grove moved that the school board keep a single copy recording of board meetings for 30 days, Pud Maeyer seconded, and both voted for the motion in roll call. Mills and Wakefield District representative Chris Ubben voted against. Before voting against the motion as well, vice chairman Aline Johnson of Piedmont District said, “For one month? I don’t see the purpose of doing it if it’s only going to be for one month.”

Wednesday follow-up

“This isn’t my office anymore,” John McCarthy said, smiling, as he entered the County Administrator’s Office Wednesday morning, since he and deputy county administrator Debbie Keyser swapped offices, in preparation for McCarthy’s retirement, the date of which will likely be announced at the March 7 Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting. McCarthy leaned back in an armed desk chair in front of his desk, to answer some of the final on-the-record questions from the Rappahannock News, as Keyser looked on from behind the desk. McCarthy can now be found during business hours working from Keyser’s former office in the Visitor’s Center.

McCarthy said that the Board of Supervisors don’t have a policy that mandates recording meetings. The clerk of the BOS, Peggy Ralph, has a recording device that she lays on the boardroom table at the Washington Court House during the monthly meetings. He said the principal function of that is more for her, in preparation of minutes, so she can know who made a motion, or who seconded.

“The only thing we really have to record in minutes is: What was the motion? Who voted for it? Who voted against it? Who was absent? That’s what you’ve got to have,” McCarthy said. “We have copied recordings for people who ask for it. When they say, ‘Who exactly made that motion? Well I want to hear it.’ We keep it for a number of months. But the purpose we kept it for isn’t the same as for public consumption — and if we do end up deciding to record for public consumption, we’re probably going to have to end up with a different setup of recording devices, because the one we use just isn’t all that good.”

McCarthy said one of the reasons the BOS meeting recordings aren’t posted directly into BoardDocs is, “Our county has one of the lowest internet access penetration rates in the Commonwealth. So if you’re looking at what’s the most bang for the buck for the people, spending a large amount of the public’s tax dollars on something less than 50 percent of them could actually use, the cost-benefit doesn’t really pay out.”

Matthews said Wednesday that the public is welcome to record or videotape any and all public school board meetings, including tonight’s public school budget meeting at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

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