May 132011

4/17 Update: As I feared, the City Council has voted to get rid of full minutes. One more step towards hiding what they say and do.

If Mayor Cassidy has his way, as of next Monday the San Leandro City Council will be making it much harder for the public to find out what they’ve been up to.  The City Council is planning to vote to eliminate regular minutes of all public meetings and  replace them with “Action Minutes”. While regular minutes include a summary of what was said and done in City Council and other public meetings, Action Minutes only record the actions taken by the City Council.   Council members (and the public) will no longer have to fear being held accountable for their words: nobody will know about them.

Cassidy argues that there is no need for full minutes of Council meetings because these are now recorded and the audio is made available online.  However, audio is non-searchable.  Unless you know precisely when someone said what, you might end up having to listen to hours and hours of city council meetings looking for the particular statement/position you are interested in hearing.  The audio of the meetings made available by the city is of very low quality, so using current technology it can’t be automatically transcribed.  Cassidy also argues that staff spend an inordinate amount of time composing the minutes of public meetings.  I am sure that is true, but I daresay they will spend just as much time going back and listening to old meeting recordings when the City Council itself needs to refer to old issues.  Why is it that they voted for Red Light Cameras back in 2011?  What other alternatives were provided?  The only way to find out will be for a staff member to listen to hours of audio.  In addition, as important as saving staff time is, it’s even more important to keep local government actions transparent and the public informed.

I think what’s really behind this move to get rid of full minutes is the same thing behind the move to delete City government e-mails: a desire by City Council members and staff to not be held accountable for their words and actions.  They want to be able to flip-flop and say and do inappropriate things with impunity.

If you care about maintaining transparency in local government, please write to the City Council and ask them to vote NO on switching to Action Minutes. You can e-mail them all together by pressing here.

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