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City Council OKs backlog of minutes

August 24, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

For the first time since January the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday approved minutes for previous council meetings.

The council voted 5-0 to approve minutes for council meetings on July 6, July 13, July 20, Aug. 3, Aug. 10 and Aug. 17.

The action came days after The Herald-Mail Co. filed a complaint with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board alleging that the City Council was in violation of the state Open Meetings Act for failing to approve written minutes for all council meetings.

City Clerk Gann Breichner, who is responsible for producing the minutes, said she had been working on the minutes long before the complaint was filed. The minutes were placed on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting before city officials were aware of The Herald-Mail complaint.

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Breichner is still working to complete minutes for meetings from January through June.

On Friday, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the city plans to hire an intern to help complete the backlog of unapproved minutes.

"We've committed to the mayor and council that she will remain current from this point forward," Zimmerman said on Friday. "But she's going to need some assistance for catching up with the backlog."

Zimmerman said the priority will be to catch up on the minutes for meetings since the current city administration took over in June 1997.

In the complaint to the state compliance board, The Herald-Mail claimed that there are no minutes for at least three years' worth of meetings over a period spanning nearly 12 years, including November 1997 through September 1998.

No city officials interviewed Friday contested the claims made in the complaint.

Minutes are a written record of what happens at City Council meetings. The prepared minutes must be voted on and approved by the council.

The Maryland Open Meetings Act requires minutes to be completed "as soon as is practicable after a public body meets."

Breichner said that ideally there would be approved minutes for all meetings, but other tasks have often gotten in the way.

Her other responsibilities include recording new laws in the courthouse, putting public notices in the newspaper, handling requests for information and dealing with the press and the public.

Breichner said the backlog has never prevented anyone from getting information on a subject.

She said all motions made, actions taken and laws passed, which would be recorded in the minutes, are documented separately. There are audio recordings of each meeting, and Breichner makes her meeting notes available.

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