Linn supervisors will record audio of meetings

Auditor Miller says complete newspaper minutes still needed

Rick Smith
Published: March 10 2014 | 1:45 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:23 am in

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Board of Supervisors will begin to record its meetings for audio replay on the county’s website in an effort to resolve another dispute with Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.

The five supervisors on Monday said they hope that making audio recordings of meetings available to the public will convince Miller to grant the supervisors’ wish to cut down the length, detail and expense of minutes published as legal notices in four newspapers in Linn County.

Miller’s office has responsibility to take and publish the minutes of supervisors’ meetings, not a few of which in the last year or more have featured narratives of the back-and-forths between Miller and the supervisors over a range of topics. Those debates have included the movement of county services and employees from Miller’s supervision and the role that Miller wants to play in overseeing county expenses.

After the supervisors’ Monday meeting, Miller rejected the supervisors’ latest idea, saying that a simple audio recording of sometimes lengthy meetings would provide little help for the public and would not replace the need to publish informative meeting minutes in newspapers. People actually read minutes in newspapers, he said.

"This is a $110-million county budget," said Miller. "Publishing the minutes is such a small percentage of the budget. At least we can tell people how their tax dollars are being spent. As a taxpayer, I want to know as much as possible about what is going on."

In recent weeks, the supervisors, who approve the minutes before publication, learned that Miller’s office sometimes condenses the approved minutes before publication. They wondered what wasn’t getting published, so Miller decided that the full minutes as approved would be published each week as he said they are most weeks. He also said he would see that some new items are published like the wording of supervisor-approved resolutions.

On Monday, Miller asked anew why the supervisors don’t better use the audio and visual equipment they installed in their informal and formal boardrooms when the county’s Public Service Center was renovated following the flood of 2008. The equipment allows them to record a video of their meetings for broadcast or posting on the county’s Web page.

Supervisors Linda Langston and John Harris on Monday said the audio recordings will let the supervisors take a first step to see what kind of public interest there is the recordings of supervisors’ meetings. They estimated that they could take the step for under $500 in cost.

Langston said the audio and video equipment was installed with the idea that its full function would be needed at some point, but the cost to use the equipment more fully has prevented the supervisors from using it, she and Harris said.

Langston and Harris said they weren’t sure how many people would sit down to listen to an audio-only recording of a full-length supervisors’ meeting.

Miller said at the very least the audio recording should index for the public which agenda item is where on the audio recording. Langston said that is a feature she’s like to see in the future.

In any event, Supervisor Ben Rogers said one goal for him was to have less-extensive minutes published in the newspaper.

Supervisor Brent Oleson said he wanted to know if Miller would agree to shorten the published minutes if the supervisors begin to record meetings for audio replay.

"If we’re going to go through these machinations, … I’d like to see concrete evidence of change," Oleson said.

Miller has estimated that the county spends about $92,000 a year to publish meeting minutes in four newspapers in the county. State law requires some publication of minutes. He said the it would cost the county a third or less of that amount to equip its audiovisual equipment to record videos of meetings.

The Cedar Rapids City Council and the Cedar Rapids school board provide video recordings of their meetings for broadcast and posting on their websites.

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