No record of council's closed sessions kept

Staff WriterMay 29, 2008 

— City Council members have not been taking minutes of their closed meetings to discuss who will be the next city manager, possibly a violation of state law.

And it might not be the only instance of the council running afoul of the open-meetings law, which says that "every public body shall keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings, including any closed session."

Council member Diane Catotti said the city clerk usually leaves the room for closed sessions and said she doesn't know "if anyone's taking notes or not."

The City Council has entered closed session more than a half-dozen times in the past month to discuss the new manager.

"I'll be honest with you: We haven't taken any minutes," Mayor Bill Bell said. "It's because it's just been confidential personnel. We've kept it strictly among the council."

He said he didn't know the law required documenting closed sessions. "If I was aware of it, I would have been doing," that he said.

State law does allow public bodies to meet privately to discuss personnel matters, including new hires. But minutes are to be recorded and stored and then made public if doing so would not "frustrate the purpose of a closed session," the law states.

"A general account of a closed session, under existing case law, does not have to include details of discussion or matters dealt with, but only a brief summary of the general discussion on the closed session topic," interim City Attorney Karen Sindelar wrote in e-mail Wednesday. "Thus, for example, 'Council members discussed the qualifications of the candidate' would suffice."

But the law, besides calling for "full and accurate minutes," also stipulates that the session be documented in such a way "that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired."

matt.dees@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2433

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