Scott County supervisors must come to grips with one simple fact: Raw audio cannot replace an official, detailed written record of a government's actions.
County officials say what's now considered "minutes" meets the state's legal minimum threshold. That may be true. But, by every practical measure, the records of county Board of Supervisors meetings fail to provide detail and context. On those grounds, they fail at serving their intended purpose.
By and large, the minutes posted online after board approval is a collection of bullet points — who attended and what resolutions, if any, were adopted.
Minutes are about creating a record for posterity. Scott County's don't.
The fix is easy. Or, at least, it should be if everyone involved would let their hackles down.
Simply requiring all county boards and committees to keep accurate, detailed minutes that actually inform seems straightforward enough. What's unbelievable is the knots county board members have tied themselves debating something that, in every regard, should be an obvious solution.
County board members at least acknowledged a problem Wednesday with shoddy record keeping, voting 3-2 to post audio recordings of full board and Committee of the Whole meetings to the county's website. The move isn't good enough and misses the point.
There's value in an accurate written record of attendance, debate and votes, which an audio recording does not, and may never, replace. It's even more true when it's the official record.
Recordings are a valuable supplement to the official written minutes. They're not a replacement.
It's not yet known how long digital recording will last. Will technology be widely backward compatible in a few decades? Maybe a server fails years down the line. The longevity of the written word — the basis of civilization as we know it — is an established fact. An accurate, written blow-by-blow account is, without a doubt, more approachable to the citizenry, not steeped in the workings of local government, than a simple audio stream of proceedings. For example, the written record cuts through the nuances of the parliamentary process, which might lose those who don't regularly spend their evenings at government meetings.
Put simply, the two methods of documenting a public meetings are not mutually exclusive. And an accurate, detailed written record should be compiled for all public meetings. Such a policy wouldn't be revolutionary nor uncommon. It's how things are done — in the name of transparency — at local governments throughout the country.
The record of a new law or policy is only as good as the justifications for its existence. Judges don't just name a winner and walk away. They craft a legal basis in often lengthy rulings. Scientists don't just state something as true. They detail their methods, findings, interpretations and any relevant previous studies prior to outlining a conclusion.
In each instance, the materials that built the case are just as, if not more, important than the ultimate conclusion. So, too, must government. And that's why detailed minutes have been common practice for decades.
All public meetings — whether a minor committee of the county board or Planning and Zoning Committee — should be documented in writing. The proceedings should be detailed, including the finer points of any given debate. These are required elements for the records of any truly transparent government. In five years, when there's need for review of a past decision, that information is readily and widely available.
Again, this is how it's widely done. It's utterly ridiculous that there's been a need for debate here.
Scott County's is a simple problem, just fix it.
Neither county Chairman Tony Knobbe nor any member of the county board created this unnecessary firestorm. Scott County hasn't done an adequate job keeping minutes for years. They just happened to be the ones sitting on the county's legislative body when county Auditor Roxanna Moritz said enough was enough after her objections to a policy were scrubbed from the official document of proceedings.
By and large, Scott County is a well-run government. It's budgets are friendly to the taxpayer. It's officials are generally earnest and forthright. And yet, at present, it fails to provide the public with an accessible record of its operations.