The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly gathered together Tuesday night for its first work session following the Thanksgiving holiday, and one of the items on the agenda was the documentation of closed meetings called executive sessions. Governmental bodies sometimes hold these meetings when, for example, they need to talk about a court case or an individual’s staff performance.
As part of the work session packet, the assembly considered two different ordinance drafts with two different documentation options: the assembly could have the clerk write minutes, or notes, to summarize what happened, or the assembly could record the entire meeting
Borough Attorney, Joe Levesque, said as far as the recording option goes, one benefit is that assemblymembers could go back and listen to the tape. On the other hand, so could other people.
“There is that possibility that it’s going to be made public somehow, and that could happen by a court order. For instance, somebody sues and says we want to know what happened and we get that. I mean, it’s a double edged sword. Without the tape, you can’t prove that you were in compliance, but with the tape, it could all go public.”
Assemblyman Dan Rohrer spoke in favor of recording executive sessions for the benefit of the assemblymembers and borough staff. As an example, he brought up a recent executive session where the borough manager was out of town and an acting manager attended in his place. Rohrer explained how a recording would benefit the borough manager in this case.
“I’m quite certain that he’s gotten filled in on what that executive session was, but technically by the motion, he wasn’t an invited party to the executive session, so my concern is it okay in a situation like that, there’s a fairly extreme example where we need our manager to know exactly what was discussed in that executive session without having to just rehash that executive session and do it over.”
Rohrer said he leans toward supporting audio recordings to keep the entire assembly and staff in the loop should they miss a meeting.
Assemblyman Mel Stephens said he doesn’t see any harm in making recordings. He also said they shouldn’t avoid recording meetings in order to maintain secrecy.
“I mean, it is true that if you don’t make a record of what you said, nobody can make you produce that record. However, it bothers me greatly that someone would say, ‘okay, so, let’s go in and say whatever we’re going to say and make sure that nobody makes a record of it.’ I don’t think that’s the way to generate public confidence in what you’re doing.”
Stephens recommended entrusting the borough clerk with the recordings and then considering their release on a case-by-case basis.
With regard to the other option of keeping minutes, Stephens suggested that summaries from one designated person might be too subjective as a method of documentation. The assembly decided that staff would work on a draft of the ordinance and it would discuss documentation again at a later meeting.
The assembly also brought up an ordinance that would change its work session and regular meeting start times from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and change their end times from 11:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Stephens said he wanted to hear from the public on the ordinance.
“If the public says, gee, 6:30 is too early or too late or whatever. What I’m thinking of is somebody finishes up work, goes home, what do they do? Do they ordinarily eat dinner and then ‘Oh, I’ve got to get up to that meeting.’ I don’t know. I’m not saying that anything is good, bad, or indifferent here. 6:30, 7, 7:30.”
If you would like to share your view on this ordinance or others, the assembly hears from the public at work sessions and regular meetings. You can also find assemblymembers’ contact information on the borough website.