Summaries fall short of goal to inform citizens

By Chuck Kajer

If you look in the Public Notices section of this newspaper, you’ll see a number of legal notices. These may include notices of bankruptcy, notices of meetings, of corporations being formed or any other type of notice that requires information to appear in a public forum.

One of the mainstays has been the minutes of local school boards, cities and counties.

However, public bodies are no longer required to print the minutes of their meetings in the newspaper. While some still do, many have opted instead to publish a “summary,” telling in very brief terms what went on at the meeting.

Take last week’s paper for instance. There is a short, 18-sentence summary of the April 17 meeting of the New Prague Area School Board.

The problem is, those 18 sentences are summarizing a school board meeting that lasted for more than four hours.

For the last two years, the school board has put an added emphasis of improving its communication with the community. However, not a lot of communicating can go into an 18-sentence summary. That meeting included a lengthy debate about busing Holy Cross School students, discussion of a change in the start time for middle and high school students, and a presentation on technology and staff development.

New Prague Schools is not alone in this trend. Some cities and counties—including Le Sueur County—have gone this direction, putting the complete minutes on their websites for people to look at. But not every resident has access to the internet or feels comfortable in using it as a tool to gather information.

Board members, council members and county commissioners should remember, it is vital to establish good communication with your constituents. The Times will continue to cover these meetings, but we don’t always cover every topic that appears before the board.

It is the responsibility of a school district, and a city and a county to communicate with its residents and give them a full picture as to what is going on. There is an argument that publishing summaries saves money, because they don’t have to pay the cost of publishing the detailed minutes. That may be so, but there is a different cost involved.

They are doing so at the cost of having an uninformed electorate.

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