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Council to vote on minutes backlog

May 17, 2001

Council to vote on minutes backlog



By DAN KULIN

dank@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Council members have agreed to vote to adopt minutes for 81 meetings from earlier in their term.

The vote, which is expected to be taken during the council's last regular meeting on Tuesday, could head off a battle between the city and The Herald-Mail Co. over whether legal minutes exist for all meetings of the current Mayor and City Council.

Council members agreed last week to vote to acknowledge the minutes were drafted, but said they would not approve specific minutes. That decision prompted the newspaper to file a complaint Friday with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board. The newspaper claimed the council must have approved minutes for all meetings to be in compliance with the State Open Meetings Act.

Herald-Mail Executive Editor Terry Headlee said Wednesday that the newspaper will drop its complaint if the Mayor and City Council vote to approve the backlog.

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"We believe this elected board has a responsibility to comply with state law,'' Headlee said. "This is important because approved minutes are the official written record of what happens during council meetings."

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II informed council members Tuesday of the pending complaint, and said a city attorney disagrees with the newspaper's claims.

Mark Boyer, a city attorney, says the Open Meetings Act requires minutes to be prepared and maintained, not approved.

Council members Lewis C. Metzner, Susan Saum-Wicklein and William M. Breichner told Bruchey they would vote to approve the minutes.

"We're doing it to save money. We're not going to go to war with The Herald-Mail ... (We'll approve the minutes) rather than drag things into court and waste taxpayers dollars," Saum-Wicklein said Wednesday.

Saum-Wicklein said she plans to read the backlog of minutes before voting.

"If we adopt them there's no complaint," Bruchey said.

Metzner said that while he will vote to approve the minutes, he's not willing to vouch for their accuracy.

"If someone puts the word accuracy in the motion I will not vote for it," Metzner said.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said Tuesday he would want to read all the minutes and ensure they accurately reflect his statements and actions before voting.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said he doesn't plan to read the minutes, and will rely on city staff to make sure they are accurate.

The 81 sets of unapproved minutes scheduled to be approved Tuesday are primarily from meetings in 1997, 1998 and part of 1999. During their four-year term, the current council members have approved minutes for 99 meetings.

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