It’s a routine part of most public meetings: Elected officials vote to approve the minutes of a previous meeting, ensuring that the public record accurately reflects what the lawmakers intended.
Except at the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
For more than 16 years, according to county officials, there have been no official minutes of supervisors’ meetings. Instead, the county clerk’s office summarizes votes and posts them on the Internet.
In addition, a “board directives log” is composed for the county’s internal computer network so department executives, board members and their staffs can see what the board has ordered.
But the supervisors never vote on the accuracy of either set of notes, even though the notes posted on the Internet are called “minutes.” And what is posted internally can differ from what the public sees.
For example, at its Feb. 28 meeting, the supervisors voted to ask the county grand jury to investigate an anonymous letter directed at Ed Kacic, chairman of CalOptima, the $1.4-billion agency that provides health care for about 400,000 poor, elderly and disabled county residents.
Kacic said he welcomed the grand jury probe as a way to clear his name.
The “minutes” of that meeting posted on the Internet stated merely that the board “placed his [Kacic’s] reappointment on hold pending resolution of potential conflict of interest issues.”
But the internal “board directives log” sent to managers and staff made the issue clear: “Staff to send letter to Grand Jury providing background and requesting they investigate the anonymous allegations made against Ed Kacic re: conflicts of interest.”
When queried by Voice of OC, county officials said they would research why the Orange County Board of Supervisors doesn’t approve even a summary of its official actions.
Los Angeles and San Diego counties, according to their websites, still vote on the accuracy of even summaries. But like Orange County, supervisors in San Bernardino and apparently Riverside counties don’t hold themselves accountable for their official actions.
Riverside County officials were not available for comment, but David Wert, public information officer for San Bernardino County, said supervisors there post a “fair statement” of their actions but don’t vote on its accuracy.
He said the change apparently was made in the late 1980s, but “nobody goes back that far” who remembers the reason.
Although California law doesn’t require boards of supervisors to vote on the accuracy of public meeting summaries, public records expert Terry Francke said the practice of approving accurate meeting minutes dates to the origins of English common-law parliamentary procedures.
Orange County keeps sound recordings of its meetings, but the recordings don’t always make it clear who is speaking. To hear what was done, members of the public might have to listen to an entire meeting.
Francke, who is general counsel for the First Amendment advocacy group Californians Aware, said minutes are a “fundamental, prompt and permanently preserved record of what public officials agreed on doing at their meetings.”
Failure by the board to vote on the accuracy of its minutes “sends a signal to the community about just how much they care about involving the community,” Francke said. “You can make it easy, or you can make it hard.”
“I can’t believe they’re so lazy they won’t take five or 10 minutes to read through and sign off on what happens,” Francke said. “If it’s not laziness, what is it?”
— TRACY WOOD
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