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Move to change recording of minutes triggers debate in Flowery Branch

POSTED: March 16, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Flowery Branch City Council will consider an ordinance this morning that could revamp the style of City Council meetings.

The new meeting style would begin with a work session that invites more public comment and council discussion on issues and ordinances. Voting action would be reserved for the latter half of the meeting.

Flowery Branch City Councilman Craig Lutz said that although he is in full support of the City Council adopting a new meeting style that invites more public comment, he does not support the 9:30 a.m. meeting time the ordinance reinforces.

"I propose to have (the meeting) at night when more people can attend," Lutz said.

Lutz and fellow Councilman Chris Fetterman said they are also concerned about a proposed change in the manner meeting minutes are recorded.

At a City Council meeting held on Feb. 20, Lutz made a motion to approve the summary minutes of the Feb. 6 City Council meeting. But with Fetterman absent, the motion failed due to lack of a second motion. Three of the four council members present at the Feb. 20 meeting did not approve the summary minutes of the Feb. 6 meeting.

Lutz said he believes the three council members present, Pat Zalewski, Mary Jones and Allen Bryans, did not approve the Feb. 6 minutes because the minutes, if approved, would make public a comment he made regarding the city’s $300,000 purchase of two buildings on Main Street.

During the Feb. 6 meeting, Lutz said he believed the city’s proposal to purchase the two buildings with the intent of leasing them out for profit was against the Flowery Branch city charter.

On Feb. 20, when the minutes of the Feb. 6 meeting were called into question, Bryans suggested the City Council move from summary minutes of council meetings to action only minutes.

According to Flowery Branch Clerk Melissa McCain, summary minutes include voting records and a summary of council members’ comments made throughout the public meeting. McCain said action only minutes document voting records and council members’ comments made during the voting session only before a motion is passed.

Bryans said he suggested adopting an action only recording of the minutes to protect the city from legal action as a result of potentially libelous comments made by members during City Council meetings. Bryans said in addition to Lutz’s comment on Feb. 6, he is also wary of Fetterman’s comment on Feb. 6 that he believes could be libelous.

As recorded in the minutes of Feb. 6, Fetterman stated that it was his hope that the city was not leasing 5512 Main St. from Hortman and Dobbs Developers LLC as a campaign quid pro quo to one of the owners of Hortman and Dobbs Developers, who ran for a seat on the Flowery Branch City Council in November, and was publicly supported by four of the five previous City Council members.

Bryans said he does not want council members’ opinions to be misconstrued in the records as factual comments.

"Every attorney we’ve ever had has told us that the less we have in the minutes, the better off we are down the line," Bryans said. "They’ve told us, ‘You be careful what you put in the minutes, because at some point in the future, you may have to defend it.’"

Flowery Branch City Attorney Ron Bennett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Lutz said he fears an action only style of recorded minutes might further remove the public from gaining insight into action taken by Flowery Branch City Council members.

"I remember, when I was John Q. Public, how difficult it was to figure out what the government was doing because meetings were at a time when I had to work, and because the minutes weren’t very detailed to begin with. And now they’re trying to take that little bit of detail out," Lutz said. "As far as transparency goes, it’s a step in the wrong direction."

Flowery Branch resident Linda Perszyk agreed with Lutz.

"(The proceedings of the City Council) should be out there for us to see," Perszyk said.

Bryans said that although he originally proposed the council adopt the action only style of minutes, he will not press his proposal through the voting process.

"I’m not going to push it if nobody makes a motion and a second," Allen said. "But I am going to state (council members’ unproven statements) are their opinion, not a fact."

The Flowery Branch City Council will meet today at 9:30 a.m. at Flowery Branch City Hall.



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