Debate over minutes keeps Eureka Springs council at odds

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Eureka Springs City Council focused on a contentious topic at its July 24 meeting: approval of the minutes.

Alderman David Mitchell added a discussion of the way minutes are approved to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, but the council had to approve the minutes from previous meetings first.

Approving the minutes

The council agreed to wait on approving the minutes from June 12 and June 26 at its July 10 meeting. When it came time to approve the minutes from all three meetings on Monday, alderwoman Kristi Kendrick said she had a problem with way the minutes were written. Kendrick said she was especially concerned with the minutes from the June 12 meeting, where the council approved a no-smoking ordinance and agreed to allocate $1,000 to codify city ordinances.

In the June 12 minutes, Kendrick said, city clerk Ann Armstrong writes that city attorney Tim Weaver said the codebook revolves around the ordinances passed by the council.

“The clerk did not note that I contradicted the statement by the city attorney by reading Arkansas code annotated 14-55-705, which states in determining the content of any ordinance so codified, it should not be necessary to go beyond the code,” Kendrick said. “The clerk simply noted that ‘discussion followed about state law.’”

Kendrick added, “By including Mr. Weaver’s comment but failing to include my comment, the June 12 minutes would lead one to believe that my concerns about the codification of the city ordinances were petty.”

Kendrick said ordinances haven’t been added to the city’s online code since September 2014, saying none of the ordinances that were passed by the council during Armstrong’s tenure have been incorporated into the online code. These ordinances include those describing how the City Advertising and Promotion Commission is made up, Kendrick said, and the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances.

“Ms. Kendrick, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but we’re talking about the minutes,” Mayor Butch Berry said.

“Yes, we are,” Kendrick said.

“And those aren’t things you are talking about,” Berry said.

Kendrick said she’d skip past the ordinances, moving on to say the ordinances should be included in the city’s online code.

“Ms. Kendrick, we’re dealing with the minutes,” Berry said, “not regarding what you’re wanting to do with codification.”

Kendrick said she had more to say about the minutes. Armstrong writes that Mitchell amended a motion to include taking $1,000 from legal services and a timeline for the budget, Kendrick said.

“I don’t know what that means. It certainly wasn’t what was said,” Kendrick said.

Berry reminded Kendrick that the council had a motion on the table to approve the minutes and asked her if she wanted to amend them. She said she did.

“In the June 12 minutes, there is much that was said and it’s very much one-sided and that’s not supposed to be what’s in the minutes,” Kendrick said. “What’s supposed to be in the minutes is what was done, and that, too, is inaccurate.”

Kendrick said she submitted her amendments to the council. She moved to approve those amendments, and Mitchell seconded the motion. Alderman Bob Thomas said he thought Kendrick and Mitchell were being unclear in their expectations of the minutes.

“Under public comments, you say ‘Mr. Jasinski spoke.’ That’s all you want there,” Thomas said to Kendrick. “Two weeks ago, when a woman had spoken, you wanted her remarks expounded upon.”

Thomas recalled the council’s special meeting July 11 and said Mitchell wanted those minutes to include every word of a three-page document he read into the record.

“To me, you’re just saying we’ll do the minutes the way you guys want them. You have to be consistent,” Thomas said. “Otherwise, whoever is doing the minutes would go crazy not knowing what to do.”

Kendrick said she asked for Armstrong to expand on comments at a previous meeting because she wanted the minutes to be accurate.

“I said first that I believed it really didn’t belong in there at all, but if it was going to be in there, I wanted it to be accurate,” Kendrick said.

The council voted on Kendrick’s motion to amend the minutes, with Kendrick and Mitchell voting in favor of it and Thomas, alderman Terry McClung, alderwoman Peg Adamson and alderwoman Mickey Schneider voting against it. After the motion failed, the council voted on a motion to approve the minutes as written. That motion passed 4-2, with Kendrick and Mitchell voting against it. McClung made two separate motions to approve the minutes from June 26 and July 10, and both passed 4-2.

Process of approving minutes

Later in the meeting, the council addressed the process by which minutes are approved. Mitchell said he spoke with Weaver about the minutes and learned that other city councils don’t approve the minutes from a meeting at the next regular meeting.

“Instead, they say the minutes are pending and then they move them to a meeting after that,” Mitchell said. “The eventual approval of the minutes are two meetings away from the meeting that actually took place.”

Mitchell said the minutes should follow Robert’s Rules of Order, saying they should state what was done and nothing else. He asked Weaver if the council could include the DVD recording of the meeting with the minutes to clear up confusion, and Weaver said that would be appropriate at times.

“The problem might arise that the minutes themselves are the actual document courts have looked at in the past,” Mitchell said. “The minutes are much more protected. Hopefully, the video is protected going forward.”

Adamson said the problem would be solved if council members spoke with Armstrong about corrections to the minutes, and Kendrick said she’s concerned with how Armstrong writes the minutes.

“I still believe we should follow Robert’s Rules of Order and report what is done and not what it said,” Kendrick said. “At this point in time, only bits and pieces are getting into the minutes of what was said.”

Mitchell said it would be easier for the council to include the DVD recording in the approval of the minutes and moved to do so. Kendrick seconded the motion, and Berry called on Armstrong to speak.

“Point of order, your honor,” Kendrick said.

Berry said he recognized Armstrong to speak so long as she spoke about the minutes.

“The reason the minutes are written the way they are … the first sentence is intended to express why the person brought the subject to the table so it’s a quick intro,” Armstrong said. “When you see a list of things that were discussed, that is for the purpose of being able to … say, for somebody doing research on a topic.”

“Point of order, your honor,” Kendrick said. “The clerk is not a member of the council and I don’t think she should be contributing to the council deliberations.”

“I have the floor,” Armstrong said.

“[Kendrick] has a point of order, and she is correct,” Berry said.

“Then I make a motion that nobody is allowed to speak at this table except us six and you,” Schneider said. “Good lord.”

Berry said Schneider could make a motion that would overrule the point of order, and Schneider did. She moved to allow others to explain themselves at the council table, and McClung asked what was going on.

“I ruled that, as Ms. Kendrick said, her point of order was that the city clerk is not sitting at this table as a voice of discussion,” Berry said. “She is correct. City council members are the ones who can speak at this table.”

“But we can make an exception and that’s what this vote is for,” McClung said. “So this motion is to allow her to speak.”

Schneider’s motion passed 4-2, with Mitchell and Kendrick voting against it.

“All right, Madam Clerk,” Berry said. “You have the floor.”

“I call for a recess,” Mitchell said.

Kendrick seconded the motion, and the council took a five-minute break from the discussion.

After the recess

When the council returned to the table, Armstrong said the minutes are kept on DVD, on the clerk’s computer and in red books. McClung asked how long the minutes stay on the website, and Armstrong said they’ll be available online in perpetuity.

Although he withdrew his motion to include the DVD recording in the approval of the minutes, Mitchell said he supported that idea. He said he wanted the minutes to refer to the recording of the meeting.

“I think … mentioning the availability of the DVD instead of narrative discussion would make for a much better record of the minutes,” Mitchell said.

Kendrick said the council agreed at the beginning of the year to follow Robert’s Rules of Order, saying the minutes should be written according to that groundwork.

“All of this is a departure from that. I do not see a good reason to do that,” Kendrick said.

Schneider asked Weaver if the council could amend its procedure in January 2018 to include the DVD recording in the approval of the minutes, and Weaver said he wasn’t sure about that.

“What you’re doing incorporating the DVD is already a little cutting edge,” Weaver said. “I don’t know of any council that necessarily attaches every video to their minutes.”

Adamson said she’s fine with the way Armstrong writes the minutes.

“With Robert’s Rules of Order, sometimes, I feel that … it was just really bare-bones,” Adamson said. “I wouldn’t know what the heck went on unless I went back and checked on the video. I kind of feel that the way the clerk is doing the minutes for the rest of her tenure is OK by me.”

Kendrick disagreed.

“Including in the minutes what was said is going to be of necessity incomplete. I think as hard as the clerk may try to make sure that it’s balanced, if you do not include every little thing in there, it’s going to be incomplete,” Kendrick said. “Therefore, I think it’s much wiser to follow Robert’s Rules of Order and only put in what was done, not what was said.”

Mitchell moved that the council “add approval of the minutes and the DVD and also included as pertinent in discussion for various topics.” McClung asked Armstrong to read what she transcribed since the council returned from the recess.

“It’s multiple comments and a motion that I would actually have to take word-for-word from the DVD because it makes no sense to me,” Armstrong said.

“I’m not sure what the motion is,” McClung said.

Mitchell withdrew his motion and moved to “add approval of the minutes and DVD of the meeting during discussion of various topics as pertinent to the discussion.” Kendrick moved to amend the motion to say “at pertinent points that may result in litigation will also refer to the DVD.”

Mitchell said he thought his motion included that idea, and Kendrick withdrew the amendment. McClung asked Armstrong to read the motion.

“The part I understood was Mr. Mitchell made a motion to approve the minutes and the DVD,” Armstrong said. “I did not understand all that went along with it.”

Mitchell agreed to restate the motion, and Weaver said he should withdraw the motion and make a new one to be sure there weren’t any discrepancies between the two. Mitchell did, moving for the council to “read the approval of the minutes and the DVD of the council meeting, and for topics of discussion the DVD may be referred to.”

The motion passed 5-1, with Adamson voting against it.

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