Experts say Groton Town Council within rights to change minutes praising Somers

Groton _ The all-Democratic Town Council angered Republicans this week by amending the written record of a meeting which occurred before the current council took office, but nothing in the Freedom of Information Act forbids it, according to Thomas Hennick, the commission's public education officer.

“Under FOI, minutes must be available within seven days, and they were. If they chose to amend them, nothing in the FOI Act prevents them from doing that,” he said.

On Nov. 14, then Mayor Bruce Flax talked about the difficult budget year the town experienced and added that because of efforts by Republican State Sen. Heather Somers, Groton received $1 million in PILOT money and $5 million that made the town whole.

About one month later, newly-elected Town Councilor Conrad Heede, who also serves as chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, made a motion to remove the remark praising Somers from the draft November meeting minutes. The council voted 5-4 to amend the draft minutes before accepting them into the record.

Flax showed up at the council meeting Tuesday saying he didn't appreciate the councilors removing his comment.

LeAnn Power, the state public records administrator, said towns must retain draft minutes after they are amended. The Office of the Public Administrator is a department within Connecticut State Library that administers a records management system for the executive branch of state and local municipalities.

Evan Lemoine, immediate past president of the New England Association of Parliamentarians, said the council’s action complies with Robert’s Rules of Order, a manual commonly used by governmental and other bodies that spells out proper parliamentary procedure.

“This is why the minutes should only contain a record of the actions taken at a meeting and not what was said by the members,” he wrote in an email. “Any opinions, favorable or unfavorable, can be viewed as political.”

In governmental bodies, some comments are often included in minutes to put the deliberations in context, but the appropriateness of including them is ultimately up to the council, he wrote.

“That’s all fair game as long as it’s not changing the action that transpired, and it’s not,” he said in a follow-up interview. “Because the larger point still is that the town secured funding. The opinion is that it was due to the senator.”

Heede declined to comment on amending the minutes.

Meeting minutes belong to the Town Council as a body, not its individual members, Town Clerk Betsy Moukawsher said. Once a meeting takes place, minutes must be available within seven days, but they may be accepted by the body later, she said.

“Omissions, corrections, alterations happen at that point, when they’re being accepted,” she said. “So you could find something that’s misinterpreted, or maybe a councilor doesn’t like how it’s written.”

Amending minutes is rare but does occur, she said.

Power said changes would be incorporated into the existing minutes.

“The minutes are one of the most important records maintained by an organization, and that’s why their approval is often unanimous,” Lemoine said. But amendments can occur years later, when the membership of a body has changed, he said. The most common reason for amending minutes is to correct errors, he said.

“At the end of the day, amending the minutes does not change what was said, nor can it change the actions at that meeting,” he added.


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