Meeting minutes causing uproar

December 03, 1998

A Herald-Mail report over the weekend pointed out that the City of Hagerstown is missing nearly three years' worth of meeting minutes dating back to 1988.

This is significant, because when historians in the next century want to look back on that great, progressive epoch in local government that was Hagerstown in the 1990s, they won't be able to...

No, wait. This is significant because in the event of nuclear holocaust, the survivors seeking to rebuild society won't be able to reconstruct who was appointed to the zoning appeals board and...

No, I've got it, this is significant because without minutes, who is going to remember which council member was first to call "Shotgun" for the next tour of the Hagerstown Fairgrounds project.


Hey look, you call it missing minutes, I call it the Hagerstown Office Paper Conservation Act of 1998.

Face it, minutes are overrated. You pass them out at the beginning of the meeting, the elected officials pretend to read them and when the president asks if there are any additions or corrections, no one says a word. (Except of course in Washington County Board of Education meetings, where Marie Byers will say "on page six, paragraph 14, I believe you need a comma after the word "audiovisual.'")

The city clerk who's responsible for typing up the minutes basically says: Who has time to type minutes? Which is true enough, except that would be like a columnist saying: Who has time to write columns? Hiring a clerk who doesn't do typing is like hiring a lifeguard who doesn't do swimming.

But hey, it's only been 11 years. Albert Einstein and Jean Jacques Rousseau had some down decades, too, but you judge them by their overall careers.

And really, being subjected to a government, not once, but twice, is really a duty no mere mortal should have to perform. Typing up minutes of a City Council meeting is nothing short of a miracle - or staying awake while you're doing it is, at any rate.

You have to love this quote from Councilman Lew Metzner: "You can't expect people to do what they don't have staff to do."

What they don't have staff to do? Since when did transcribing a cassette tape turn into organizing a state dinner at the White House? Staff? The Joint Chiefs need a staff. A city hall clerk needs Word Perfect.

Metzner's solution would be to have an outside firm come in to do the minutes. This is pure government at its most lovable. Hire a full-time employee to do a job and then contract out to a private firm to do the job the employee is being paid to do, but hasn't done.

And what firm are you going to call? Minutes Busters? Ferris Baker Watts? Maid Brigade, typesetting division?

And did anyone ever think that we may not want to know what the council did back in 1988? For all we know, there might be a law on the books against something completely nuts, such as loud car stereos.

Or preventing the kids with loud stereos from turning left on Cannon Avenue from Dual Highway. Remember that one? Some brilliant tactician decided that was the way to keep kids from cruising the Dual, so they put up a "No left turn" sign. That was fine with the kids, who just kept going straight, right into the heart of downtown, where they'd turn left on Potomac to complete their Dual Highway orbit. And now, guess what? Everyone's horrified we have all these noisy kids downtown.

The solution is obvious: 1.) Take down the "No left turn" sign from Dual Highway onto Cannon. 2.) Charge a $100 entertainment tax on cruisers who continue to drive into downtown. On your third loop, an officer pulls you over and gives you a tax bill.

And if you can't afford the tax, you have to type up two months' worth of city hall minutes.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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