Linn board Meeting minutes will remain lengthy, for now.

Supervisors declare allegiance to transparency, but what happens next bears watching

Todd Dorman
Published: February 20 2014 | 7:54 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:54 am in
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Linn County supervisors want you to know that they are emphatically opposed to “bare bones.”

“I don’t want bare bones,” said Supervisor Ben Rogers at Tuesday’s board work session. Similar sentiments were expressed by his colleagues.

Supervisors were not seeking a more substantial lunch. They were, again, discussing the scope of official minutes kept to chronicle their public meetings. They’ve become lengthy in recent years after the board expanded to five members and debates between supervisors and County Auditor Joel Miller grew more frequent and wordy.

On Sunday, I wrote about the possibility that supervisors might whittle those minutes to cut the cost of publishing them in local newspapers. There was some talk of what other counties do, including bare-bones, just-the-facts minutes. Motion made, discussion ensued, vote taken.

Supervisors insist they never, ever wanted bare bones. And now they’ve directed the auditor to publish the board’s full, lengthy minutes with no editing by auditor’s office staff.

“Nobody to my knowledge is saying we want to hide information,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson, who contends that the county operates far more openly than Cedar Rapids, where its professional city manager and staff work largely behind the scenes.

“The county, we let it hang out,” Oleson said.

But supervisors also left the subject of meeting minutes hanging.

Although the full minutes will be published, for now, supervisors still want a change.

They want shorter minutes published in the papers to save bucks, but it’s unclear who would do the shortening or how. A board staffer, apparently, will take the auditor’s office’s official minutes and shorten them, to show Miller’s staff how it could be done.

The deputy auditor who has been taking minutes for decades, Becky Shoop, is running for a supervisor’s seat held by Supervisor John Harris. So that adds a wrinkle.

If published minutes get sliced, it’s probable that longer, more complete minutes still would be available online. And there could be streaming/posted video of board meetings. But Oleson contends the previously estimated $50,000 price tag for high-quality video is not among his budget priorities.

It’s also possible that nothing changes and the issue fades away.

People do care about this. I received several emails from readers who are staunchly against shortening the minutes. I also got calls from several readers who say they don’t have online access and read minutes in print. “I really like to keep up with what’s going on in the government,” one caller said in a voice-mail message. Good for her.

I also know that some board members think my criticism was overblown. But what I’ve learned over the years is that when public officials start sniffing around any idea that might curtail public information, the best response is a strong one. Hesitate, play pat-a-cake and before you know it, the skids are greased and it’s too late.

If you’re unlucky, you’re ignored. If you’re lucky, they make a course correction while expressing shock anyone would suggest that they aren’t transparent. Sometimes you get lucky.

 

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