Many local governments fail to post meeting minutes, agendas
ALPENA — Nearly half of the local governments and school districts surveyed by The News do not post meeting agendas on their websites, and meeting minutes posted online averaged 97 days old.
In a one-day survey of websites for Northeast Michigan’s largest local governments and all Northeast Michigan school districts, The News found two local governments — Rogers City and Hillman — had not posted meeting minutes in 253 and 778 days, respectively.
Onaway Area Schools posts no minutes or agendas on its website, and The News could find no online agendas for six other governments — Hillman, Alcona County, and Harrisville, and Posen, Atlanta, and Hillman school districts.
In most cases, state law does not require public bodies to make public meeting records available online or to produce agendas at all.
However, minutes and agendas let residents know what elected officials plan to discuss, what decisions they made, and how residents can be involved in those decisions — the type of information many people expect nowadays to find online.
The News reviewed the websites in honor of Sunshine Week, a national commemoration of government transparency laws and a time for transparency advocates to highlight areas in which government transparency lacks. Sunshine Week began Sunday.
Tony Suszek, interim superintendent of Atlanta Community Schools, said that, while his own district doesn’t post meeting agendas online, he gets frustrated when he goes to a county meeting and only gets an agenda shortly before a meeting.
Websites should have important information so residents know what’s going on, he said.
“It’s a transparency thing,” Suszek said. “Because we have nothing to hide. Or we shouldn’t.”
According to the state’s Open Meetings Act, a public body must make approved minutes available for public inspection within five business days after the meeting at which the minutes are approved. Proposed minutes, though not yet approved, must be available to the public within eight business days after a meeting. The law does not specify how governments must make those records available.
Officials say busy workers, cost-cutting efforts, and website complications keep them from making those documents available to residents online in a timely manner.
“It is just being able to find the time to do them,” said Joe Hefele, city manager for Rogers City. “We get busy and sometimes we fall behind. We are hoping to get caught back up soon.”
Of the communities examined by The News, Hillman had gone the longest without adding new minutes to its website, its most recent posted minutes being from January 2020.
Hillman Clerk Brenda South said that, since the last set of minutes was posted, the COVID-19 pandemic and the village’s efforts to cut costs meant staff were in the office less often.
Residents can request minutes in person at the county office or can request an emailed copy, South said.
Website updates cost Hillman $500 a year because nobody in the office can do that work. South said that money is used for other needs. Hillman has a roughly $286,000 budget.
“It costs money to do that because it isn’t done in-house, and we are trying to cut costs,” she said. “Maybe we can look at doing them again, but, right now, it is to reduce expenses.”
As of late February, Harrisville and Montmorency County hadn’t posted new minutes on their websites since December. Montmorency County’s website is under maintenance and minutes will be added soon, a message on the website says.
Harrisville Mayor Jeff Gerhing said the city is reconfiguring its website, which has caused the posting of minutes to fall behind.
“We’re in the process of having the website totally reworked,” Gerhing said. “As soon as it is up, running, and satisfactory, they will be brought back up to date.”
Gerhing said he hopes the new website will be operational in the next month or so. Until then, people who want to review the minutes can do so in the Alcona County Review or at the Clerk’s Office, he said.
Alpena Public Schools’ most recent board minutes were 93 days old on the day of the News’ review.
APS posted minutes for its January board meeting two days later, one day after those minutes were approved at the February meeting.
As in some other districts, APS officials post committee and board meeting agendas in links in the district’s calendar on its website. Agendas are also emailed to local media.
As of the survey date, Hillman Community Schools had not updated board meeting minutes in 44 days.
Hillman school district secretary Char Kendzorski, who records board meeting minutes, generally posts minutes the day after they have been approved at the next month’s meeting, she said.
Minutes not yet approved by the board are available upon request through the district office shortly after the initial meeting but are not posted online.
Accurately typing up minutes, which may include verifying information or communicating with other officials, may take several days, Kendzorski said.
At Onaway Area Schools, which posts neither minutes nor agendas, minutes are available in the district’s main office for public review, according to interim Superintendent Mindy Horn.
Horn said in an email to The News that the district has no plans to post minutes or agendas on its website and did not respond to a question asking why those documents are not posted.
Public bodies may be reluctant to post agendas because topics of discussion often change just before a meeting, making an agenda posted earlier inaccurate, said Suszek, of Atlanta Community Schools.
He’s willing to encourage his district to put out a preliminary agenda — with the understanding that topics of discussion could change before the meeting — to help promote resident participation at meetings, he said.
“They’re going to make an important decision,” he said. “Maybe it’s approving a budget. Maybe it’s hiring somebody. Maybe it’s some kind of policy. That input is valuable.”
Minutes and agendas, by the numbers
On Feb. 23, The News surveyed the websites of the nine biggest local governments, all eight area K-12 school districts, and Alpena Community College, looking for meeting agendas and meeting minutes. Here’s what we found:
∫ 7: The number of local governments and school boards that did not post any meeting agendas online
∫ 1: The number of governments (Onaway Area Schools) that did not post any meeting minutes online
∫ 97: The average number of days old online meeting minutes were, among governments that posted meeting minutes at all; governments typically meet at least once per month
∫ 9: The average number of days old online meeting agendas were, among governments that posted agendas at all
∫ 778: The number of days old Hillman’s most recent online meeting minutes were, the oldest among those reviewed by The News
∫ 63: The number of days old Montmorency County’s most recent online meeting agenda was, the oldest among those reviewed by The News