On April 10, 2015, Ron Niemala of Grand Rapids requested a response from the City Clerk regarding the incompleteness or the Minutes of the City Council meeting on March 9, 2015. In his letter, he questioned why the Minutes did not reflect comments and statements made to the Council regarding three (3) topics which impact the City’s SEC investigation status, the State of Minnesota Auditor’s Report regarding the City of Grand Rapids and the apparent conflict of interest of a sitting City Council member completely and accurately. The content of his request to the Clerk is as follows:
“This email is being sent to verify that the original email sent on the City of Grand Rapids server was received. The email sent regarded corrected minutes of the March 9th meeting in which I appeared before the council to share concerns and asked questions involving Central School, Councilman Zabinski’s conflict of interest and who would fund [city or brew pub] the necessary upgrades to the building should the project proceed, especially since the city is bonded to the max with over $62 million in indebtedness. Also brought up was the concern about the SEC investigation involving the misinformation given to bond purchasers about the credit worthiness of the city and the potential for liability to the local taxpayer for this error. Finally the State Auditor’s report showing that Grand Rapids is now #6th highest of 227 municipalities with annual expenditures exceeding $22 million on a population of 10,300, versus Bemidji, population of 13,500 and expenditures of $14 million and Cloquet with a population of 12,200 and annual expenditures of $7 million. Mayor Adam’s comment was “We interpret this information differently than the State Auditor.””*
Please make the necessary corrections to the minutes to reflect the true nature of the comments and the Mayors comments. Thank you.”
The clerk responded to my inquiry as Follows:
Thank you for your email. Please be advised that City Council minutes are not transcribed, but summarized, with the exception of specific action taken on items presented. For those who wish to have a full accounting of the meeting and its contents, an audio recording is kept in the Administration Department and is available for the public to listen to. Also, ICTV keeps video recordings that the public can request copies of directly from ICTV. I hope this information was helpful.
As always, let me know if you need further assistance. “*
The Clerks response did not provide answers to the questions relating to the complete and accurate Official Record of City Council meetings. Rather, the Clerk merely stated that the Minutes are a summary of the proceeding only and that no transcribed record is made. In addition, the Clerk stated that an audio recording of the proceeding is kept by the Administration Department and is available to be listened to by the public. Furthermore, ICTV keeps video recordings available to the public.
This response poses several crucial questions regarding the required permanent, official record of official City Council meetings. Unless these questions can be answered, it would appear that the City Council is less than transparent and that the public is not privy to City Council proceedings during Regular or Special City Council meetings.
For convenience, we have divided the questions prompted by the Clerk’s response into three (3) categories. It is to be noted that these categories are for convenience only and do not limit or restrict any line of inquiry. Due to the subject matter, there are certain redundancies but each question addresses the specific topic in the category. The categories used are:
• Audio Record
• Video Record
- 1.1 As to the Minutes of the City Council meetings, Minnesota Statute Sec. 412.151 states that the complete record of City Council meetings may be summarized in the Minutes only if the record summarized is in the Permanent Record of the proceedings and can be accurately identified from the description in the Minutes. The permitted summary in the Official Minutes is only permitted if the Clerk has a complete, accurate and permanent record of the entire meeting.
- This leads to several questions regarding the City’s maintenance of a complete, accurate and permanent record of all City Council meetings. While the record may be summarized in the Minutes per Statute, a complete, accurate and permanent record must be made.
- 1.2 How does the public know that the Minutes available through the Clerk are summaries only and not a full and complete record of a City Council meeting?
- 1.3 Even if the Minutes of the subject City Council meeting is only a summary of the proceeding, why were questions that have serious financial and ethical implications given only a cursory, abbreviated treatment?
2.0 Audio Record
- 2.1 How does the public know that an audio recording has been made of the entire City Council meeting?
2.2 The Clerk stated that the audio record is available to be heard by the public in the Administration Department. Are copies of the audio record available to be obtained by the public for an appropriate fee?
2.3 How can a member of the public obtain a copy of the audio record that is certified by the Clerk as a true, complete and accurate copy of the original audio record?
2.4 How long are the audio records kept in the Administration Department and how are they kept?
2.5 Who owns the Copyright of the audio recordings?
2.6 What is the format used for making the audio record? i.e., is the audio record in the format of audio tape, audio cassette, CD, mp3, mp4, etc.?
2.7 Given that all forms and formats of producing an audio record have definable life spans (due to construction, technology, etc.), how can it be stated and guaranteed that such audio recordings are permanent and can be maintained and accessed in perpetuity?
2.8 How can the Clerk certify that the audio record available to the public is the original record and not a copy or a copy of a copy? Regardless of the technology used, each time a copy of an audio file is made, there is some degradation in the copy.
2.9 Who is responsible for making the audio record of City Council meetings?
2.10 Who is in control of the actual recording process?
2.11 Can the audio recording device be turned off intentionally, inadvertently or accidentally during a City Council meeting?
2.12 Can the Mayor, a City Councilperson or other City Official or Employee pause or halt the audio recording process at any time?
2.13 Can any microphone used in the audio recording process be turned off or muted during the audio recording process?
2.14 Historically, it has been shown that audio records can be and have been tampered with, altered or erased in whole or in part, i.e., the “Nixon Tapes”. How can the Mayor, City Council, Clerk or other City Official certify that the audio record is a complete and accurate record and that it has not been tampered with, altered, edited or erased wholly or in part?
2.15 Historically, audio records supplement the complete and accurate transcribed record of a proceeding but the audio record does not replace full, original transcribed records of Official Proceedings. Under the Original Evidence Rule, how can the City purport that an audio recording meets the Original Evidence standard as a complete, accurate and permanent record of City Council meetings?
3.0 ICTV Video Record
- 3.1 Does the City own ICTV?
3.2 If the City does not own ICTV, what fiduciary relationship exists between the City and ICTV?
3.3 Is ICTV an Agent of the City and subject to direction and control of the City?
3.4 Who owns the Copyright on the ICTV video recordings?
3.5 Does the City own, all or in part, the ICTV video recordings of City Council meetings and/or all rights to the ICTV video recordings?
3.6 If ICTV owns all rights to the video recordings of City Council meetings, said recordings may be destroyed, altered, erased, removed from availability to the public, etc., at the will of ICTV. How can the City certify that an ICTV video can be used as an official record that may be maintained in perpetuity?
3.7 How long and in what manner are the ICTV videos of City Council meetings maintained and stored and in what manner are such videos stored?
3.8 How can a member of the public obtain a copy of the ICTV record that is certified by the Clerk as a true, complete and accurate copy of the original ICTV video record?
3.9 Who is responsible for making the ICTV video recordings of City Council Meetings?
3.10 Who is in control of the actual recording process?
3.11 Can the video recording device be turned off intentionally, inadvertently or accidently at any time during the recording process?
3.12 Can the Mayor, a City Councilperson or other City Official or employee pause or halt the video recording process?
3.13 Can any microphone used in the video recording process be turned off or muted at any time during the recording process?
3.14 What is the technology used in making the ICTV video recording and in what format are the ICTV video recordings made, i.e., .mwv, mp4, etc.? With changes in technology, the format used may become obsolete rendering the data stored as a video recording unavailable to current playback devices.
3.15 As with audio recordings, video recordings can be and have been tampered with, altered or edited. How can the Mayor, City Council, Clerk or other City Official certify that the video record has not been and cannot be tampered with, altered or edited?
3.16 Who receives the monies for obtaining a copy of the ICTV video record of City Council meetings? If paid to ICTV, the monies paid are not a legitimate fee but a purchase price paid as a “for profit transaction” which indicates that the ICTV video recording is not maintained and controlled as a permanent, complete and accurate record by the City, or agents of the City.
3.17 As with audio recording, video recordings supplement a transcribed record but do not replace such complete, accurate and official transcribed record of official proceedings. Under the Original Evidence Rule, how can the City purport and certify that the ICTV video meets the Original Evidence standard?
Your response to all of the above questions is respectfully requested, in writing, on or before June 10, 2015. These questions are crucial to the transparency of City Government and official records made, maintained and preserved. Without a valid complete, accurate, original and permanent record, the City gives, at the least, the appearance of non-transparency and secrecy.
It is the position of many that, due to the concerns and queries above, it is apparent that neither the audio recordings nor ICTV video recordings qualify as a legitimate complete, accurate and permanent record of City Council meetings and proceedings. In addition, as neither of these purported “Official Records” can be viewed as such, the Clerk and the City have not provided a complete, accurate and permanent record for public review and scrutiny. In view of the fact that the City does not provide a legitimate Official Record, the Minutes of all City Council meetings and proceedings must be complete, accurate and permanent records of such meetings and proceedings per Minnesota Statutes Sec. 412.151.
The issues presented are somewhat complex and, presumably, unusual. However, it is believed that a formal response can provide the necessary mechanism to present the transparency that appears to be lacking.
Grand Rapids Voice
* Italics added