Get the easy stuff right

By Page Glennie

Meeting minutes are the principal mechanism of transparency and accountability of any governing body. Meeting minutes have been a fundamental organizational practice for hundreds of years, codified in law and basic organizational principles. Every organization from the Cub Scouts to the garden club approves the minutes of its last meeting as the first order of business to insure the accuracy of the record of their deliberations. Virginia law requires county boards of supervisors minutes to provide a summary of the discussion on all matters proposed, deliberated or decided, a record of any votes taken, and all materials furnished.

The Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors has not approved meeting minutes in a timely manner since the county’s clerk of the court stopped doing the board minutes after June 27, 2016. In addition, the most recent minutes prepared for approval do not accurately reflect the discussions and deliberations in the meetings. The board needs to reestablish the process that produced timely and accurate minutes for our county government for over 180 years.

At the June 5, 2017 meeting, 11 sets of minutes were presented for approval, and two sets of minutes were presented for reapproval, encompassing more than 50 hours of board deliberations that occurred over nine months. The action was tabled because the board had not had the time to review them. The minutes from last November’s board meeting still haven’t been presented for approval.

Thanks to the Rappahannock News, we do have video recordings of most of the meetings. From those videos, it is clear that major issues that came before the board and decisions made by the board will not be part of the public record, if the minutes are approved as presented. For example, there is no mention of a 12-minute discussion of procurement issues during the Feb. 6, 2017 board meeting that is related to a Virginia State Police criminal investigation. Coincidence?

The minutes of the board’s budget workshops reflect none of the information presented, who presented it, the nature of any individual line items discussions, and no mention of any decisions regarding the budget deliberations. There is also no record of the discussions regarding personnel evaluations or credit card use that I witnessed during those meetings. Perhaps they want no record that a majority of the board believes that personnel evaluations are unnecessary? Unfortunately, these meetings were not videoed and only a small number of citizens were in attendance.

Due to the voluminous nature of the material, and the track record of some of the board members not doing their homework, it is hard to imagine the board conducting a thorough review of the many hours of audio and video tape to identify what is needed to establish an accurate public record.

To address the situation, I recommend the board defer approval of these minutes until a proper review can be undertaken by the county’s clerk of the court or some other entity. I also recommend that the board request the county’s clerk of the court to resume taking the board minutes, and funding her office accordingly.

The writer lives in Amissville.

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