Jasper school board decides meeting minutes will contain less information

The Jasper County Board of Trustees has ended a debate about what should be included in its meeting minutes -- ironically, by deciding that details of its debates will no longer be written down.

Only action taken by the full board will be included in minutes. Summaries of its discussions, presentations and background material will not.

The board approved the new policy on a 5-2 vote on May 27, with two members absent. Several attempts to reach board chairwoman Berty Riley, who voted for the change, were unsuccessful.

Board member Randy Horton, who opposed the change along with Debora Butler, said last week the move thwarts transparency and creates problems for the public.

According to the minutes from the April 28 meeting, when the debate that sparked the decision occurred, Horton said parts of a discussion about a district audit were left out of previous minutes.

S.C. law "states that the minutes should be where anyone who is not in attendance at the meeting can read them and know exactly what transpired," he said.

Cheryl Hensley, secretary for the board's meetings, said that the only information required to be in the minutes is board action, "all other is extra."

The S.C. School Board Association agrees. State open-meeting law requires only that board action be included. The Jasper County board made its decision based on this information from the association, according to the motion.

However, association executive director Paul Krohne said most districts find a happy medium, including summaries of presentations and discussion pertinent to the action taken. Determining what is considered "pertinent" can be difficult, he said, which is why some boards choose to include only action.

Beaufort County school board chairman Bill Evans said he believes minutes should not be a transcript of the meeting, but it is important to include the main discussion points around votes. That helps the public understand board actions, he said.

The Jasper board hopes to begin videoing its meetings and making those broadcasts available online, superintendent Vashti Washington said. The district audio-tapes all meetings and those recordings are available to the public upon request.

Washington said scaling back the minutes will not hinder transparency. Instead, she said, it will provide clarity by not including bickering.

The main point is the action the board takes as a whole, she said, which is what the minutes will record.

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