By Robert Washburn
A push by Councillor Miriam Mutton to get more details in the official records of Cobourg council continues to strain relations between members Monday night.
Mutton challenged Mayor Gil Brocanier during a routine matter of approving the previous week’s minutes demanding an exchange between her and Deputy Mayor Stan Frost is included.
However, the town does not record detailed comments in the minutes. Notes are taken on the various motions and votes are recorded. This is a universal system used by most levels of government called Hansard, said Municipal Clerk Lorraine Brace.
“The Hansard minutes used by most developed democracies to provide a detailed and impartial record of parliamentary proceedings. They provide a verbatim transcript of the decisions that were taken, the policies adopted, and the passage of legislation,” she said.
Brocanier confirmed council’s policy not to record discussions. And, he said the exchange is not a big deal.
“There is no doubt it is a bit of a diversion at the time. I do not think it is interfering with out ability to do business at any particular meeting,” he said.
But, while the wrangling may appear to be unimportant, it does have an impact on the dealings between councillors.
“I think it might be having an effect on relationships. And, I am always talking about the importance of developing relationships. I think we have to come to an understanding what it is exactly we are putting in to question. And who we are questioning,” he said.
It is not the first time Mutton has raised questions about information being included in reports and minutes. Recently during a council meeting, she called on staff to include public input from a meeting held on town’s budget. She was successful in getting in included in the final report.
Council could change its policies and include discussion, even though it is not done in other municipalities.
Brocanier said it is not something he wishes to see done.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
Kudos to Ms.Brace. Here I was hoping that the journalist misquoted her 😉
Nevertheless this clarification brings up an important point: since the town is presently reviewing its procedures and policies how the minutes are taken could be revisited.
Like Deb I too have taken many meeting minutes and there is a certain wisdom in adopting the “Minutes of Decision”. However, there will always be the need for some information in such a style of minutes. As such it can be as selective in the information it puts forward as “Minutes of Narration”. M.Mutton may have a point here in that there needs to be further clarification as to what are “action v.s. information v.s. narration items” in the minutes. Personalities are one thing, as Deb has pointed out, but greater transparency and accountability is quite another thing. The question needs to be asked: are council minutes so concise as to be lacking in tranparency?
Municipal Clerk Lorraine Brace pulled me into her office after the Cobourg council meeting tonight to correct this story.
She admits the style of minutes used by council is not Hansard. She said Hansard is a full documentation of everything said. That is not what is used.
Instead, she showed me the procedural bylaw. It states:
“…the municipal clerk shall provide a written record of the meeting, without note or comment, including all resolutions, decisions and other proceedings of the Council or committees.”
There is no style or name to them.
Before the disparaging comments start, I was impressed she took the time to correct herself. She said several times she made a mistake. And, she said she was sorry.
As a journalist with nearly 30 years of experience, I swear this is the first time someone in a bureaucracy has come so clean about an error.
We all make mistakes. The record is corrected.
And, let those without sin cast the first stone.
Have to agree with Scott, having had the pleasure of reading Hansard from time to time. It’s verbatim all right, to the max, whether it’s federal or provincial parliament. As someone who’s been volunteered more than a few times to take Minutes, I pick # 3, and that is certainly what Cobourg is using. Gets the procedures and decisions down in black and white and leaves personalities out of it. Certainly though, if motions or points of order were raised, they should be included.
I find this description of “Hansard” style minutes curious. My understanding of meeting minutes is that there are generally three kinds:
1. Hansard: which is “verbatim” i.e. word by word.
2. Minutes of Narration: which will include a short description or summary of discussions
3. Minutes of Decision: which records only specific actions, such as motions and votes.
If anything I would say our council uses a form of #3. Look at Hansard both provincially and federally. It captures all the discussions put forward by MPPs and MPs evern the “hear!hear!” of several members. Can someone point me to a definition of municipal “hansard-style” minutes?
Good to know what this is about, it certainly wasn’t clear to those observing Council Monday night. What is still murky is why Councillor Mutton wants Minutes to include discussions that occurred on the way to reaching decisions. Adding additional information to reports makes sense to give them context, but that’s not the same as making changes to how official Minutes are recorded.
It seems like Ms. Mutton is still fighting the battles waged at the last Council. This is a new group with different dynamics though, and it may be time for her to take a new approach. She’s very thorough and has many valid, important points to make, but she needs to pick her battles and refine her strategy if she wants to be known for diligence rather than nit picking at every little item.