A semi-familiar quandary or dilemma or whatever you want to call it popped up again at last week’s Crookston City Council meeting, when a couple council members, taking issue with the lack of quantity and detail in the meeting minutes kept during council meetings, noted that they’ve had “people” complain to them about the vague, short meeting minutes current disseminated by City staff.

    So how many “people” is people, actually? Two? Three? Five? Ten? Forty?

    It’s a legitimate question, but in the case of the current state of council meeting minutes kept by City staff and then later disseminated to the local media, council members and other people who need to know, what’s more legitimate is the fact that they do need to be better than they are right now.

    And they can be better.

    The City seems to have sufficient office staff on the full-time payroll to get all kinds of things accomplished, and yet, we’re told by those who are hesitant to make an effort to improve the quality and quantity of council meeting minutes that doing so is “very labor intensive.” That’s what City Administrator Shannon Stassen said in response to complaints voiced by council members Tom Vedbraaten and Bobby Baird last week.

    So what constitutes a “very labor intensive” work-related task, anyway? Do we even need to answer that question? We’re talking about a combination of recording, typing, transcribing and posting information from a meeting. Is it going to take up half of someone’s work day? It certainly doesn’t seem like it should be that big of a deal. The optics aren’t good when you balk at providing more public information to the public because, you say, it’s too much work.    

    It must be noted, however, that the City does provide a valuable service in this realm. After every council and Ways & Means Committee meeting, the City posts the recorded audio on the City website. If you want to know what transpired at a meeting, this is your ticket, even if sometimes it’s difficult to decipher who is saying what and what exactly is transpiring.

    One could argue that the audio recordings reduce the significance and importance of detailed meeting minutes, but meeting minutes are required and the ones produced by the City of Crookston could certainly be improved. Simply keeping minutes of “actionable” items and then noting how people voted on a resolution is not enough.

    There’s more than one way to do this. Have someone listen to the audio and type up the most important parts, even if it’s just in summary form. Have someone typing on a laptop or tablet at a meeting, making sure not to miss important exchanges, discussions and disagreements between council members and City officials, clean up the typos later and add it to the list of actions done by the council and committee that night. One thing that should no longer happen: Having a City staff member, with pen and legal pad in hand, writing by hand the things that are transpiring at a meeting. That practice seems hopelessly antiquated.

    The way it stands now, a half-hour, intense, passionate and even heated debate could take place involving a resolution on the agenda, and the minutes would only list the resolution, who made the motion and seconded it, and how the council voted on it. For anyone reading the minutes knows, the resolution was acted upon without a word of comment.

    Improving the City’s meeting minutes seems like low-hanging fruit on the tree of transparency. The need for improvement is clear, and it’s pretty easy to make the needed improvements. Council members seemed to agree on this for the most part last week, so we’ll see what happens.