A debate is heating up between some commissioners and Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Griffin over the quality of meeting minutes and ultimately the accuracy of the information that comprise Douglas County's public record.
In a call for more transparency in government, Douglas County Commissioner David Brady cast the one dissenting vote against approval of the minutes from three previous commission meetings, which he said are below standard and unacceptable.
"It is evident that there has been a material change in terms of content and quality," he said. "I believe meeting minutes should accurately reflect the content of the discussion so the public can obtain a clear understanding of the issues, the debate and the final action."
For example, the dissenting arguments both Brady and Commission Chairman Doug Johnson made concerning approval of Max Baer Jr.'s "Beverly Hillbillies" casino project in the August minutes were either incomplete or left out altogether, a situation that could leave the county vulnerable to future litigation if those minutes are subpoenaed, Brady said.
"The public's trust in government is a function of the transparency provided by governing agencies," he said. "Meeting minutes are a vital element to providing such transparency for how decisions are made and how we operate as a county. Full disclosure should be the order of the day."
Commission Chairman Doug Johnson said he understands Brady's position, but the minutes were approved by a majority of the county commission.
Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Griffin said the minutes reflect a summary of the meeting.
"I truly support the public process and the importance of the public expressing their comments both in opposition and support regarding any project or item that comes before the public bodies," Griffin said. "The substance of the minutes cannot be subjective or lead the reader to a particular bias."
Griffin pointed out that the board's minutes, which Brady challenged, were approved by commissioners 4-1.
The debate over minutes has swirled around the approval of Baer's project at both the planning and county commissions.
On July 10, Planning Commissioner Margaret Pross asked that everyone's comments dealing with the project be included in the minutes that were forwarded to the board of commissioners for their Aug. 2 hearing. Pross said she never sought verbatim minutes, but simply wanted everyone's positions listed and her findings for denial of the variances on the projects included.
She was at the hearing when County Commissioner Jim Baushke said it appeared those opposing the project didn't have that much to say.
Those minutes were rejected at the Planning Commission's Aug. 14 meeting. In an Aug. 22 memo, Deputy District Attorney Cynthea Gregory said that anyone wishing to amend the minutes should include a written document to include their comments.
Gregory said draft minutes with technical corrections comply with the law, and any planning commissioners who wanted to include their opinion could submit it in writing as an attachment.
In a response to Gregory, Planning Commissioner Lawrence Howell disagreed that the July 10 planning commission minutes met the requirements of the law, because information concerning the proposed Beverly Hillbillies casino specifically named for inclusion by Pross was left out.
The minutes also failed to name those present and absent at the meeting as required by law, Howell said.
"Prior to the meeting, my intent was to recommend both changes and vote to approve the amended minutes," Howell wrote. "However, after Douglas County Clerk Barbara Griffin finished her lecture, it appeared we had three options: approve, deny, and/or ask for someone else to take the meeting minutes," Howell said. "The July 10 meeting minutes still do not include the comments that Commissioner (Margaret) Pross requested be included, and the transcript of the July 10 meeting is inaccurate."
At a recent planning commission meeting, Gregory said the minutes are not the official record, but a guideline to what happened at the meeting.
"The official record is the audio recording," Gregory said.
Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson agreed.
"The minutes drafted conform with the open meeting law," he said.
The planning commission plays an advisory role to Douglas County commissioners, gathering information and offering opinions concerning everything from variances for reduced parking spaces to complex project approvals.
Those recommendations are forwarded to the board, who makes a decision based on that and other research.
Planning commissioners narrowly approved the needed zoning change and gaming overlay for the Beverly Hillbillies project by a 4-3 vote July 10, but the arguments opposing the project were not included in minutes forwarded to county commissioners.
Those minutes were subsequently rejected by planning commissioners at their regular August meeting, charging specifically-requested information was left out and they did not accurately reflect the planning commission's findings. Those same minutes were approved with a complete audio recording of the meeting at September's planning commission meeting, but the minutes themselves were not altered.
County officials say the public can obtain audio recordings of the meeting or watch the meeting on a local TV station, a solution Brady said moves in the wrong direction and contributes to the public's distrust of government.
"We should be raising our standards, not lowering them," he said.
• Susie Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-5121, ext. 211.
The minutes forwarded to the Board or Commissioners concerning the Beverly Hillbillies project before their August decision did not include the following information after a specific request that they be added by planning commissioner Margaret Pross.
• A zoning change of more than 20 percent of a parcel, which is part of the North Douglas County Specific Plan, should have triggered a master plan amendment.
"The applicant avoided this process by including the entire 97 acres of the Riverwood Complex in this application," Pross said.
• Casino project applicants have requested significant increases in signage, including a 200-foot oil derrick. Using the proper fill and grading to bring their signs to the proper base elevation in relation to Highway 395 would negate the need for a sign height that exceeds Douglas County ordinances.
• The height of a building should be measured from the natural grade, but such was not the case when considering the Beverly Hillbillies project.
• The financial burden it will bring to the county in increased services has not been adequately addressed.