GM board member wants much less detail in meeting minutes, destruction of notes, recordings

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A member of the Green Mountain Unified School District Board of Directors wants that panel to streamline the minutes of its meetings, eliminating much of the detail of its discussions, and to destroy notes and recordings of those meetings after the minutes are approved. Some of those proposed actions, however, would violate state law.

At the start of the Thursday, May 20 meeting of the GMUSD board, when the minutes of the previous meeting would normally be reviewed and approved, chairman Joe Fromberger told the board that there was an objection to those minutes.

Dr. Dennis Reilly in an image taken from an earlier meeting.

He did not identify the member who was unhappy with the April 15 meeting minutes, but suggested that he, vice chair Deb Brown and superintendent Lauren Fierman meet with the board member to discuss the problem and so the approval of the minutes was tabled.

That April 15 board meeting was notable in several ways, including the large and vocal turnout of school staff and the public, the decision to rescind the previous meeting’s rejection of Fierman’s recommendation of Keith Hill to be principal of Green Mountain High School and the subsequent successful vote to offer Hill the job. The minutes of that meeting ran to 15 pages reflecting the amount of comment and discussion.

Then, late last week, The Telegraph obtained a copy of an email to Fromberger from Cavendish board member Dennis Reilly, in which Reilly said that he had “some serious concerns” about the amount and type of detail in the draft version of the minutes. Reilly also objected to the attachment of a transcript of the “chat,” a feature of online Zoom meetings that allow for attendees to type comments and questions to each other. Reilly included references in support of his complaint as well as his own revision of the minutes.

Too many words

At the heart of Reilly’s objections is the assertion that meeting minutes should include “a brief, concise statement for each action taken by the board, with a short explanation that explains the school board’s decision,” and avoid details of the board’s discussion.

Page three of the minutes showing an example of the scale of revision. The green, strike through text would be deleted.

“For the minutes, no personal comments should be noted regarding what someone may be feeling” wrote Reilly. “… Avoid direct quotations; even without a name, the speaker may be identifiable. Don’t report details of discussions, especially who said what.”

To underscore his points, Reilly went through the April 15 minutes striking through the portions he does not believe belong. The revision removed 7,416 words from the original text of 9,894 or approximately 75 percent, leaving 2,478 words intact.

This is in sharp contrast to the detailed minutes that recording secretary Amber Wilson has been providing the board and that many members have praised over the years.

Among the reasons Reilly believes the minutes should have less detail is that the tone of members’ discussion reflected in the minutes could be used in litigation. He did not address concerns about transparency in the way the board does the public’s business.

Reilly also wrote that “video recordings, chats should not be a part of the minutes and should be deleted.  They serve no purpose but to humiliate and personally attack board members or the public.”

Advice to destroy notes and recordings

In one of the two sources cited in Reilly’s email, Jeanette Panning of the American Geophysical Union published in a resource page of the American Society of Association Executives website says that “once the minutes are approved, destroy any notes and audio or video recordings of the meeting. The final approved minutes should be the only record of the meeting that you distribute and keep.” Reilly’s suggestion amplifies that idea calling it “required.”

While private associations may do this to limit litigation, liability or transparency, public boards — especially in Vermont — are required to follow a much different standard. The public records law — 1 VSA 317 a. (b) — makes it illegal for a custodian of public records to “destroy, give away, sell, discard, or damage any record or records in his or her charge, unless specifically authorized by law or under a record schedule …” Willful violation of this is punishable by a fine of between $50 and $1,000 per offense.

For her part, Panning said in emails with The Telegraph that she wrote the article for the Good Counsel  column in the  publication Associations Now during her tenure on the legal committee for the ASAE. Panning said that the advice was the best practice for an association board, but she said she cannot speak to its use by a school board and that her advice would be to seek legal counsel appropriate to the board’s situation.

The second reference cited in the email to Fromberger is from the Diligent website that sells BoardDocs, a cloud-based software for various board functions.

In a statement on Tuesday, May 25, recording secretary Wilson said, “I have been serving the various school boards in this area for the past sixteen-plus years. While I have long included more than the statutory minimum in the board meeting minutes, I welcome board member feedback, but look to the board as a whole for direction regarding the content of those minutes.”

The Telegraph contacted Reilly to set up an interview on the subject. After several emails, Reilly wrote: “I can’t imagine what you could write about. I seriously don’t believe my suggestions for meeting minutes, yet to be discussed, are newsworthy. Unless, someone put a spin on it. I guess I’ll wait to read your article.”

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  1. Linda Diak says:

    It should be on reporting/clarity/readability. In those areas, the Telegraph excels.

  2. David Waldmann says:

    I have always assumed that the “Vote” was regarding the accuracy, clarity and readability of the article. Based on my reading of the article it should be rated at 4-5, unless there are gross inaccuracies of which I am unaware.

    I get the impression that many people vote on their opinion of the content of the article, as in whether they like what happened or not.

    So it brings up the question – are we supposed to vote on Content or Reporting? Or am I being to analytical?