A battle over words in Kilmarnock, VA

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 9:00 am

Booth

Kilmarnock Town Council voted to replace verbatim transcripts of council and planning commission meetings with summary minutes backed up by audio and video recordings. Although there were no dissenting votes, the mayor’s decision to comment on the measure cost him his gavel for the meeting.

A recent issue concerning verbatim transcripts began with a joint session held between the town council and planning commission on Thursday, Oct. 11.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Rebecca Nunn called Councilman Shawn Donahue a “puppet” when he asked about the planning commission’s role in the town’s Capital Improvements Project.

However, the regular transcriptionist was unable to make the meeting due to a medical emergency and had to rely on an audio recording when compiling the minutes.

When the joint session transcription was examined for approval by town council in a regular meeting held Nov. 19, Donahue questioned why the minutes didn’t include Nunn’s description of him.

After learning that the comment was unclear on the recording, Mayor Raymond Booth refused to sign the meeting’s minutes.

“If we can’t trust the minutes for one meeting, then I don’t know if I could trust the minutes for any meeting,” said Booth.

The minutes were later signed and approved during a Dec. 17 town council meeting.

During Monday evening’s meeting, Booth passed his gavel to Vice Mayor Emerson Gravatt to comment on his concern with the proposal to omit transcribed minutes.

Booth said the only time he noticed an issue with the minutes was when neither Transcriber Joanie Kent nor Acting Town Clerk Cindy Balderson were in attendance of the joint session.

“It’s particularly hard when you have to go to that audio tape without having been present at the meeting,” he said, adding that summary minutes made for the possibility of meeting coverage becoming prone to the bias of the transcriber.

“Quite frankly I’m not comfortable with summary minutes of my comments during council meetings,” Booth said. “If we move to summary minutes, we are moving away from open government and from readily and easily providing information to the public, which I think it is our job to do.”

Councilman Howard Straughan disagreed.

“Every other organization I belong to takes summary minutes,” he said, adding that any board or council would have approximately one month in which to review the summation and make corrections if necessary.

Nunn noted that transcripts were not required by either state or town code.

“I just think a total transcript is a waste of time,” Nunn said. “They’re not hours, they’re minutes.”

Town Manager Tom Saunders asked that council provide staff with adequate time to prepare for the changeover.

The January meeting marked the third consecutive time when Booth relinquished his role as mayor to Emerson Gravatt to enter discussion on council.

Following council’s vote, Gravatt refused to hand the gavel back to Booth.

“You have to give it back now,” Booth told the vice mayor, but Town Attorney Chris Stamm confirmed that he didn’t.

“[The code] says it may be given back, but it doesn’t have to be,” said the attorney.

Gravatt assumed the mayor’s duties for the rest of the meeting.

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