Yokeley leads in getting better records of city meetings

Monday’s Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting was moving along as they usually do, until it was time for the commissioners to vote on approval of the minutes from the most recent meeting.

That’s when Commissioner Steve Yokeley spoke up, expressing his concern that the minutes did not fully reflect all the comments and actions at that earlier meeting.

That’s because Mount Airy doesn’t really keep what most would consider true “minutes” of meetings. Instead, the commissioners, and the public when it can get copies, are presented with written summaries of what happened — votes, general discussion notes, that sort of thing — rather than full transcripts of the meeting.

Yokeley, who has been on the board since 2009, decided that was no longer good enough, saying he could not vote to approve the minutes in that format.

We applaud Yokeley for his decision to seek more complete minutes of government meetings and for taking the lead in discussion that night. His move ultimately led to a unanimous vote by city commissioners to require detailed, full transcripts as minutes.

This will add work to the board clerk’s schedule, and possibly some small expense to the board. It’s also going to take more time on behalf of the commissioners to review the minutes before approving or amending them, but it is well worth it.

Minutes are to be a historical record of what goes on at these meetings: who spoke, what they said, what issues were raised, vote totals, and everything that takes place during the meeting. They are the ultimate arbitrator when there is a dispute over what may have happened at a meeting — the minutes serve as the final word on such disputes. A summary simply doesn’t do the same thing, and leaves too much to chance.

Someone listening to the meeting, or to a tape of the meeting, might very well think a speaker means one thing, when the person talking means something slightly different. Someone summarizing can easily misunderstand a person, get something confused, or write simply in a manner that’s not clear to people reading the minutes.

Actually quoting each person, writing out a full transcript of actions and statements, do away with any such ambiguity.

We believe this serves the residents of Mount Airy better than a summary document, and it certainly will be better for those in the future who may be researching board and city history.

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