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Accuracy of Norwalk minutes questioned

NORWALK, Conn. – Minute-keeping was an issue at Norwalk’s Common Council on Tuesday evening, as a member of the public spoke about more than a dozen errors – although the minutes had already been approved without comment by council members.

Deb Goldstein said she had found 14 problems in the six pages of minutes of the March 13 meeting, written by secretary Marilyn Knox of Telesco Services, but Mayor Richard Moccia cut Goldstein off before she could elaborate.

In accordance with the agenda, the drafted minutes were approved by the council right after roll call. The vote was unanimous.

The next item on the agenda was public participation. Goldstein was one of two public speakers at the meeting. While public speakers are supposed to be allotted three minutes for their comments, her time at the lectern was very brief.

“I apologize, because I realize you just moved and adopted the minutes, but in the spirit of good record keeping I have come here to just ask that you send it back for a proofread,” she said. “I counted no less than 14 typos, including non-material things like —”

Moccia interrupted. “I don’t want to interrupt you, but that’s best handled if you find it and send it to the council people,” he said. “It’s not a matter for discussion for the public to correct the minutes.”

Goldstein said, “Thank you,” and sat down.

Here are three excerpts from the minutes, with mistakes in bold:

•  “Mr. Kimmel stated that he knows this Board is a most difficult one to serve on as it is a very involved and tedious process of property evaluations, and he his appreciative of the willingness to serve. He added that he is pleased to support the above reappointments as he knows they will continue to serve with dedication to the City.”

• “Mr. Watts stated that he was excited about the paving projects as these are important programs for the City, and asked Mr. Alvord to address the concerns expressed during public comments. Ms. Alvord came forward and stated that there were pass problems with Deering, they met with them and analyzed the bid requirements and have worked out guidelines of holding them accountable and they have since been very compliant and have had satisfactory completion of projects. …”

• “Mr. Bondi sated that he did vote against them in the past, but based on the West Avenue project, those situations have been rectified, and they are satisfactorily compliant with guidelines.”

Goldstein said that, after the meeting, Assistant City Clerk Tammy Grimes-McPherson approached her with a business card, asking Goldstein to let her know in the future if she found mistakes.

Another member of the public, Diane Cece, and Goldstein went on to chat about the importance of good record keeping. Cece said she searches minutes for information, and typos might make that effort less fruitful.

Goldstein said that if there are typos getting through, she doubts other things in the minutes.

She asked, “How do I know if all of these 14-digit account numbers are accurate?”

Comments

13 responses to “Accuracy of Norwalk minutes questioned”

  1. Susan Wallerstein

    Did I miss a new ruling that gives te Mayor the right to cut people off (“I dont want to interrupt you but…” ) during the public participation part of Council meetings?

  2. oldtimer

    She makes a good point, if the mayor can’t be bothered by someone pointing out mistakes in the minutes, we have to wonder how many numbers are wrong.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    I am fairly certain that most council members, myself included, only pay attention to errors that actually change the meaning of what was said. Rightly or wrongly, I never bother asking that typos be corrected unless they radically alter what I or someone else said. The examples you cited really wouldn’t change the overall meaning of those sentences or paragraphs. Though I have to admit, since I spotted no masculine pronouns, that it would be impossible to figure out the gender of our public works director from the minutes.

  4. Dorothy Mobilia

    There’s an old expression, “Say what you like about me, but spell my name correctly.” Deb Goldstein was on target to expect proper spelling and vocabulary in the city’s legal documents, to say nothing of an official’s title. You agree, Hal Alvord? And oldtimer’s certainly right to wonder about the money figures in a document where city officials passed on errors a fourth grade teacher would not.

  5. Debora

    Bruce, I did apologize to the council for bringing it up at the meeting, but as I printed the minutes very shortly before leaving to attend, there was no time for me to pass the item to the appropriate staff.

    Your point is well-taken about materiality of the errors, but had I been allowed to complete my remarks at the meeting, you would understand that this was not about playing “gotcha”. My concern was that if there were typos that were obvious in the words in the minutes, how could we be confident that more material items, like account numbers, terms of contracts or dates of events at facilities did not also contain errors. Only a thorough read of underlying documents would allow a member of the public to identify those types of errors.

    As to changing the meanings, one of the more material errors appeared in Mr. Hamilton’s comments in a response to a question YOU asked–a word substitution that resulted in a sentence that actually made no sense (recap below).

    As it wasn’t a particularly dense or controversial agenda, a minute to suspend the rules to ask for a review of the minutes and to re-move that they be adopted with typos corrected would have been both respectful of a member of the public, and of basic record-keeping.

    Again, I apologize to everyone as it was not my intent to embarrass anyone, only to ask that we make sure the record of government actions taken were accurate.

    RECAP: ERRORS IN CAPS

    Mr. Kimmel asked about the wage increases and the net cost to the city, and Mr. Hamilton came
    forward to address questions. He reviewed the cost analysis that was provided and explained TH
    AT the cost of the settlement of the contracts was 2.5% or 2.8% without roll up impact of wage IN OR non wage items and the affect of social security and Medicare increases. He added that the review of annual increases over five years does not include pension COALITION that was negotiated separately.

  6. NorwalkVoter

    The secretarial company that produces minutes for all city meetings is paid to do so. She has a contract and has been doing this work for much too long. Prices are high and the work is poor. Maybe the city should be looking to put this contract out to bid. Quality should be the first consideration.

  7. SB

    I agree that the secretarial service is incompetent. I served on a Norwalk Board years ago that used Telesco and we spent too much time correcting multiple mistakes in the minutes at every meeting. What gives, why not get good service for taxpayers funds?

  8. M. Murray

    Aren’t the meetings recorded? In theory that could eliminate the cost of having minutes typed up. Recording could be digitally uploaded and anyone interested in the meetings could get a verbatim recording.

  9. Suzanne

    M. Murray, there are many speech to text software programs on the market that have become very accurate. I use “Dragon: Naturally Speaking” for some of my writing projects and have been very pleased with the results.

    For meeting minutes, it would be a one-time nominal cost of a computer program, a computer and then someone to reverify to the recording (although I doubt this step would be necessary unless grammatical inaccuracies of speakers needed to be corrected which is a turn on or off function embedded in the software.)

    In other words, a little bit of tech-savvy research could significantly reduce this transcription cost and make the entire enterprise much more accurate.

    Now that is something I cannot imagine City Hall wanting to do (good idea applied, money saved, accuracy.)

  10. Joe Espo

    And this is all the anti-administration democrats can come up with? Typos? That’s a great platform: Elect me and I will ban typos!

  11. Suzanne

    Mr. Espo, You know that isn’t the only issue so I am assuming you are exercising a sense of humor.

    What if the typo occurred with the cost of settlement percentages in the case above or some monetary value? The potential for that to be of consequence is worth noting and correcting. Details matter no matter what party affiliation.

  12. LWitherspoon

    @Joe Espo
    I don’t know or care about the speaker’s party affiliation – it was not appropriate for the Mayor to cut off the speaker. If a member of the public wants to use her three minutes during public comment to talk about typos in meeting minutes, she should be allowed to. If the Mayor wished to suggest that Ms. Goldstein bring the typos to a staff member’s attention, the Mayor could have easily held his tongue and done so when she finished speaking.
    Also, it is entirely reasonable for taxpayers to ask that meeting minutes produced with our tax dollars be clear and free of typos. Some of us don’t have time to attend every meeting or watch it online, but we do like to be able to read a clear record of what transpired.
    I do agree that there are bigger issues facing Norwalk than typos in meeting minutes – that’s not something I’d base my vote on, but it’s a reasonable subject for public comment nonetheless.

  13. M. Murray

    Not sure it would even need to be transcribed typo free I the recording acts as the minutes

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