Good Minutes Matter

Any organization with official meetings has official minutes. In Illinois, that’s not only a Robert’s Rules of Order requirement, but for the board of an elected body, it is a legal requirement as a central part of the Open Meetings Act. In the Illinois Public Library Annual Report, there is an audit of the year’s minutes that must be submitted. This year, with the incredible number of meetings requiring minutes since the new Board at the Niles-Maine District Library was seated, they did not manage to get all of the minutes finished and approved as required by law. 

I have some sympathy for the Board’s new Secretary, Suzanne Schoenfeldt. Imagine being newly seated on your first board as an elected official, and having the Board President, Carolyn Drblik, scheduling so many meetings! For just the period since she was seated as Trustee and voted in as Board Secretary, and up to the cut-off for the 2020-21 fiscal year on June 30, Ms. Schoenfeldt was responsible for (if I am counting correctly) 9 meetings and 3 executive sessions which all require written and approved minutes. The somewhat circus-like atmosphere of some of the meetings would make that task all the more difficult.

Different organizations handle minutes differently. All the law requires is that the minutes convey the substance and actions of the meeting, as well as the attendees, starting and ending time, etc. The NMDL practice was to keep the minutes spare and referring people to the video posted online for more details. Other organizations try to capture more of the discussion, but they typically don’t post meeting videos. The NMDL minutes had become so spare because at every meeting, Trustee Drblik always insisted on having her direct quotes included, and the approval of minutes sometimes took 15-20 minutes all by itself.

Now President Drblik is making sure that the minutes are written to her specifications, and that takes time. For some 20 years, the Library’s Administrative Assistant would write up excellent, brief minutes that were rarely changed. But now the Board President has instituted a new procedure where any trustee can say what they want added to the minutes, and it becomes the job of the Administrative Assistant to go back and listen to the recording to confirm that the wording is correct before the minutes are approved. Here’s the problem with that–it is making changes completely out of context. The new quotes are not being heard in light of whatever discussion went on. For instance:

Imaginary Trustee Glummy: “You’re an idiot”

Imaginary Trustee Noodles: “No, you’re an idiot!”

Weeks later, Trustee Glummy: “The minutes need to reflect that Trustee Noodles said, “You’re an idiot!”

The words might be accurate, but minus the context it is very misleading. And it throws the balance way out of whack for one trustee to insist that her words be included when trustees aren’t typically being quoted.

Last month, President Drblik attempted to add a “clarification” to then-Trustee Olivia Hanusiak’s motion setting the library’s hours back to pre-pandemic (70 hours per week) and not reducing the staff size. Drblik tried to change the minutes to reflect the then-current hours per week (66) and to say that it didn’t mean that they couldn’t fire anyone. Her clarification was an obvious attempt to rewrite history, turning a motion that took her by surprise and which she did not want in any way into something more palatable. She instructed the Administrative Assistant to review the recording and held the minutes for the August meeting. She then initially put a motion on the August agenda to clarify the motion, but that agenda item has now been withdrawn, probably after a chat with the library attorney since putting words into the mouth of a trustee making a motion and no longer on the board to defend herself is not legal.

Minutes are important for maintaining a historical record. The role of the Board Secretary is a crucial one in overseeing the minutes as written up by either herself or library staff, and in signing them into the record. The Board Secretary has ultimate responsibility for each set of minutes, and that has so far proved to be an enormous job. I very much doubt that Secretary Suzanne Schoenfeldt realized fully what she was signing on for in being the person who signs all of the library’s ordinances, resolutions, and minutes. Trying to work with a Board President who wants to keep changing the minutes to reflect her views creates an ethical dilemma for her and complicates her job all the more. It’s her name, and her responsibility, and I for one don’t envy her.

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