HEDON Town Council keeps an official record of each of its formal meetings, this record is known as the “minutes” of a meeting. Typically, the council minutes will list who was present, the issues under discussion and the actions taken (if any) on each of those issues. They record decisions taken by council members collectively, not what was said by its individual members.
Hedon Town Council is a public body spending public monies, so minutes of meetings – as public records of decisions taken – are essential documents. Theoretically, the minutes of meetings are not official until they are formally approved by the members present at the next meeting. However, most decisions taken at a meeting are usually acted upon as if they were approved because to do otherwise would not be practical.
At the last public participation meeting of the council held in October 2014, former town councillor Jim Lindop who is still a regular attendee at the meetings as a member of the public, asked about availability of minutes of meetings and whether these should be displayed in public in the Town Hall council noticeboards.
Currently approved minutes of meetings are available to view on the council’s website, can be viewed by request via appointment with the council, or copies can be made via printing them off from the website or asking the council to print a set (costs would apply).
Jim Lindop pointed out that not everyone is on the internet or would know where to find copies. Therefore Jim asked if these important documents should be displayed in public in the same way that agendas are? Currently agendas – which list the business to be discussed and also serve as a formal public notice of the meeting – are pinned up in the council noticeboards outside the Town Hall. So why not the minutes too?
The issue was discussed by the council’s Finance & General Purposes Committee on Thursday 27th November and some practical implications were raised regarding displaying minutes on the Town Council noticeboards. As the photo shows, the two noticeboards outside of the Town Hall between them contain enough room to display eight A4 sheets of paper. Whilst agendas rarely run over two pages, minutes of meetings can be several pages long. So to display minutes regularly in the noticeboards would dominate them (and perhaps at the expense of the meeting agendas and public notices of council meetings?).
Mr Jim Uney in his Hedon Blog comments suggests the council should erect some larger noticeboards capable of displaying the minutes – but notwithstanding any costs associated with this – it might be argued that if the council were to erect larger noticeboards, local residents would rather see other information of public value in them rather than minutes of meetings – they may be essential documents but not the most riveting of reads!? The success of the council’s Community Noticeboard in Market Place results precisely because it contains information of general community interest.
As a councillor Jim Lindop used to provide council information (his own personal notes from its meetings) on the Hedon Blog. In this he was a pioneer in helping to bring essential council business information in an accessible format to a new and wider audience. What he did for an internet audience – Jim might hope to do for the wider population who are not connected to the internet. There is a difference, however; as a councillor Jim hoped to convey basic information on what the council was discussing regularly – currently his starting point is that he believes the council is not being as open or as honest as it should be.
So what is a solution to the issue of making minutes available and ensuring that the council is seen to be transparent and open about its decision-making?
It has been suggested that the noticeboard contains a statement saying that approved minutes are available on request; that copies to view are made available in Hedon Library (and perhaps at the Customer Service Centre at New Road). There is also some mileage in having a ‘issues list’ published regularly in the noticeboard, displaying the current ‘live’ issues the council is discussing i.e. parking, Horsewell Pond, dog fouling, with an appeal to find out further information by attending meetings, reading minutes, etc?
Have you got ideas or opinions on this? Leave a comment, share your views.
For those Blog readers seeking copies of minutes of Hedon Town Council meetings, visit the relevant page on its website.