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Council minutes go unapproved

May 11, 2001

Council minutes go unapproved



By DAN KULIN

dank@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council said they will formally acknowledge that minutes from 81 previous meetings have been written, but will not vote to approve those minutes.

It was unclear whether this would satisfy the state law requiring minutes of all council meetings. Minutes, which are written summaries of meetings, are required by the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

Mark Boyer, a city attorney, said the council does not have to approve minutes for them to be legally considered minutes.

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Jack Schwartz, an assistant attorney general and counsel to the Open Meetings Compliance Board, would not discuss the situation specifically. But he said generally that minutes are not legally minutes until approved by a public body.

During Tuesday's council meeting, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II told the council that a backlog of minutes for 81 meetings since they took office have been drafted. Bruchey said Boyer advised him the minutes don't need to be voted on by the council.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said, "We should vote to acknowledge they've been prepared. But I'm not going to read 81 sets of minutes."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner emphasized that the council would not vote to approve any of the minutes. Metzner said he could not confidently determine whether minutes from 81 past meetings were accurate, and therefore could not vote to approve them.

Council members agreed to vote on May 22 to acknowledge the draft of the minutes.

Boyer said the Open Meetings Act, "Does not require minutes to be approved or adopted. It just requires them to be maintained."

The act states, "As soon as practicable after a public body meets, it shall have written minutes of its session prepared."

Schwartz said he does not comment on this or any other specific case. But he said, "Minutes are not minutes while they are in draft form. The public body itself must approve the minutes."

"It's not quite explicit in the act. ... but it's implicit (in the act). It's the responsibility of the public body to determine the minutes accurately reflect what happened," Schwartz said.

Schwartz said minutes are important because they "enable someone unable to attend the meeting to get the gist of what went on."

Minutes have been required since the Maryland Open Meetings Act was adopted in 1976.

In November 1999, the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that the mayor and council violated the Open Meetings Act for not having minutes prepared in a timely manner. The ruling was in response to a complaint filed by The Herald-Mail Co.

Bruchey and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman have since said that minutes from meetings of the current council would be completed. But they said minutes from previous councils would not be completed.

From the 10 years prior to the current mayor and council taking office, there are at least 193 mayor and council meetings for which minutes have not been approved.

The current mayor and council took office in June 1997.

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