The Board of County Commissioners announced Thursday, Jan. 24, it would stop keeping written meeting minutes in lieu of the archived video footage of each meeting that is available through the Carroll County government meeting portal, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Board President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said the decision to stop keeping written minutes was made because of a change in the Annotated Code of Maryland. The code states: “A public body need not prepare written minutes of an open session if: (i) live or archived video or audio streaming of the open session is available.”

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“Several years ago the Open Meetings Act was amended to provide if meetings are livestreamed and archived, there’s no need to take written minutes anymore because the best record of the meetings is the actual film of the proceedings,” said County Attorney Tim Burke at the Thursday commissioners meeting.

“If you're broadcasting live and recording meetings, you no longer need to record them [in writing].”

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Wantz said in an interview with the Times after the meeting that the decision will not decrease hours or personnel for the county, does not require a public hearing because it is a procedural change, and that the reasoning for the decision is simple: “It’s 2019.”

“Most, if not all, of the jurisdictions across the state of Maryland have already gone to the elimination of written minutes,” he told the Times.

But Wantz couldn’t provide exact examples, and every other central Maryland county — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard — confirmed their county council meetings are streamed lived and archived, and written minutes are also kept.

“We are not planning any changes,” said Cindy Mumby, a spokesperson for Harford County government. Representatives for Anne Arundel and Howard county governments also expressed no intention of eliminating written minutes.

Both archived video and written minutes can be found on recent meetings on Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s county councils, as well as for county commissioner governments in western Maryland counties Washington, Allegany and Garrett.

VOCAL Carroll County, a grassroots activist group that last year advocated for the commissioners to update its ethics ordinance, said in a statement to the Times it was “dismayed at the decision by the Commissioners to discontinue the production of minutes.

“As advocates for civic engagement in our local government we often search the county website archive of minutes when researching the history of various issues. In addition, we believe that video or audio archive is insufficient for citizens with hearing or other impairments. However, if the county produced transcriptions or closed captioning for these recordings, then perhaps these accessibility issues would be solved and fuller transparency accomplished.”

Wantz said discs of the video recordings will be made available for citizens who do not have internet access, “or they can go to the library and see it. It is rare for us to have someone ask for written minutes.”

“Because of today’s digital society and where we are, it’s just a better and more efficient way to do it,” Wantz said. “What better way to get it than what actually happened? A lot of the minutes in many cases were a summary of things that occurred; you don't actually get what happened.”

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Erika Butler, Alison Knezevich and Jess Nocera contributed to this article.

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