Monday, January 27, 2014

Proposed Elimination of Verbatim Minutes Diminishes Citizens’ Oversight of the Actions of Public Officials

Prepared Comments Made to
January 27, 2014 

            Accurate and complete records are vital building blocks of our history. They should not be filtered, interpreted, or summarized by any individual.  

            As an example, I would like to quote from a General Affidavit submitted to the U.S. Pension Office in support of a request for a pension for my great-grandmother, Nancy Lindenberg, a widow of a veteran of the Civil War. It is dated June 26, 1910. The statement was submitted by Starling Marshall, a family friend who served several terms as a Kentucky legislator in the early part of the twentieth century. Mr. Marshall states: 

            “We were well acquainted with Christian Lindenberg, alias Christian Linburg, and Nancy Lindenberg living on adjoining farms, residences within hailing distance of each other, and know that Claimant and the soldier lived together until his death, and that they were never divorced, but lived and cohabited as man and wife, up to date of his death, May 10, 1910. We also know that Soldier left no other child or children claimed for by this or any other marriage, but Harry Lindenberg who was under 16 years of age at time of Soldier’s death. On the filing of her claim May 20, 1910, we know this from an intimate acquaintance, seeing Claimant or Soldier almost daily for several years up to his death. We also know that Claimant has not remarried since Soldiers [sic] death.” 

What would we be left with today if those words on this affidavit had been summarized or paraphrased? I am certainly glad that the National Archives in Washington, D.C., has not summarized or paraphrased records entrusted to its care. 

A speaker’s words, spoken or written, are his/her own and not for someone to interpret. Would anyone want his/her words filtered or re-interpreted and then preserved in said manner for posterity? I think not. 

In actuality, the demands of summarizing or paraphrasing someone’s words would require more time and effort than simply transcribing those words verbatim, not to mention the risk of inaccuracies introduced by restatement.  

As public officials conducting the public’s business, why would you even consider letting someone summarize or paraphrase your words on public issues? Verbatim transcripts protect you. Why would you want to open the door and let someone put words in your mouth?  

Like the words of Starling Marshall that I read to you, your words will be preserved for generations to read. I am sure each of you would prefer that an accurate complete record of your words be kept. 

The proposal to eliminate transcribed verbatim minutes of Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings, Zoning and Building Board of Appeal meetings, and Appeals and Variances meetings is a mistake and will diminish citizens’ oversight of the actions of public officials. 

Ending the tried and true practice of verbatim minutes does not bring about any cost savings for taxpayers as acknowledged by Council President Jon Snyder in answer to a question asked by Councilmember Peters.  

How can cutting corners and diminishing the historical account of the actions of North Canton City government benefit citizens and taxpayers? 

Last Tuesday, Law Director Fox repeatedly said that audio recordings, which would be maintained in the “Cloud” under the proposed elimination of verbatim transcripts, could be taken to a transcriptionist and transcribed at a rate of $200 per hour. 

Anyone who has observed a transcriptionist transcribe a meeting would observe the transcriptionist using a transcription machine, one that is pre-programmed with the names of expected speakers at the meeting. The transcription machine works in tandem with the transcriptionist’s own recording of a meeting. 

 I called Premier Court Reporting and talked to a transcriptionist and was told in no uncertain terms that transcribing a meeting which she had not attended and recorded would be extremely difficult. Further, she could not certify such a transcript. In short, a citizen could not obtain an accurate transcript as stated in this scenario, at any cost. 

It is very disheartening to hear North Canton’s Law Director claim that a citizen could simply take an audio recording and have it transcribed verbatim when that is not really feasible. 

North Canton City Council has kept verbatim minutes of Council meetings for decades. It is a permanent, accurate record of the action of public officials. 

Yesterday I spoke to Daryl Revoldt, former Mayor, past President of City Council and longtime member of North Canton City Council regarding the proposal to discontinue the practice of transcribing verbatim minutes of City officials at public meetings. 

Mr. Revoldt was unequivocally opposed to the proposal to end verbatim transcripts and told me that I had permission to present his position against this proposal. He also gave me his cell phone number to give to many of you on this Council body so each of you could hear his position on why verbatim minutes have served North Canton and its citizens well.  

I ask that Ordinances No. 13-14, 14-14, 15-14, and 16-14 to end verbatim transcription of Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings, Zoning and Building Board of Appeal meetings, and Appeals and Variances meetings be tabled or voted down.  

Without summarizing or paraphrasing on my part, Mr. Revoldt’s last words to me on this proposal were:  “Ending verbatim transcripts would be an unwise decision.” 

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne, Resident
City of North Canton