The Princeton Council decided Monday night to forgo more comprehensive meeting minutes in favor of “action oriented” minutes that record the outcome of council votes.
Under the work session item titled “increased transparency and streamlined minutes”, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert suggested that moving forward, the Council minutes should record votes, but “be less of a transcript of what each person said. It will be easier to keep them up to date.”
The town will post links to TV 30’s online video archive of council meetings on the municipal website. People who want to review what happened in detail can watch the videos, as they could in the past, officials said.
“It will be the best of both worlds,” Lempert said.
The last minutes approved by the council are from April. Officials said the clerk’s office has been too busy to complete them because of consolidation.
New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act requires public bodies to keep “reasonably comprehensible” minutes of their meetings and to make them available to the public for inspection and copying.
In all of the other municipalities in Mercer County, with the exception of Trenton, comprehensive minutes are compiled that include summaries of main points made by officials and others during meetings, regardless of whether a vote was taken. The City of Trenton is behind in maintaining minutes, and similar to Princeton, Mayor Tony Mack also has suggested in the past that the audio recordings of meetings should be considered the comprehensive minutes.
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said she supports the idea of streamlining minutes because it would increase the turnaround time for their completion and approval.
“Taking minutes involves some kinds of interpretation,” Crumiller said. “If you stick to decisions made and streamline the minutes they are more accurate and are done more quickly. There is no better record than a video.”
But Councilman Patrick Simon opposed the move, highlighting the importance of transparency. He pointed out that minutes are easy to review quickly, but videos are not searchable and people would have to seek out information on the videos by watching the entire video until the issue they are interested in comes up.
“The things we say ought to be part of the public record and be easy to find,” Simon said.
Lempert said an official can submit something in writing at the meeting if the official wants it included in the official record, and that public comment would be included.
“It’s more a matter of prioritizing our time,” she said regarding the issue of keeping minutes. “We have trouble getting through the volume of work we need to get through. The minutes are important, but do we want to be spending a lot of time on past meetings versus getting through our work?”
Councilwoman Jo Butler suggested the town hire extra help temporarily to catch up on meeting minutes if necessary, but no one picked up on the suggestion.
Crumiller said written minutes are subjective and directing people to online videos would “neutralize the problem.”
Even though the session was labeled a “work session”, the council agreed to go ahead and give the new minutes system a try and see how it goes.
Last year, Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini chastised the Trenton City Council for not having up to date minutes and told the Council that going forward, minutes “should be made ‘promptly available” to the public. He noted that a 1986 court decision defined “promptly available” as meaning within two weeks after the meeting.