Agendas: Navigating Transparency and Citizen Engagement in Local Government

How much thought have you really given to agendas in the past week?

It may seem like a simple outline of meeting topics, but they hold much more significance in the realm of local governance. In fact, they are not only a plan for what is to occur in each meeting, but they also carry legal requirements and specific publishing/posting obligations in many states.

And, with the new ClerkMinutes tool available, having a solid agenda has never been more important. A good agenda sets the stage for a well organized meeting, thorough meeting minutes and a comprehensive transcript. 

We’ve asked Clerk-at-Heart, Chris Astrella, to shed light on the basics of an agenda: 

Across the country, similar requirements for agendas likely exist. The emphasis is always on the importance of transparency and citizen participation.
Agendas are not only a plan for what is going to occur in each meeting but, in many states, a legal requirement with specific items and publishing/posting requirements.  When I was a Clerk in Wisconsin, my agendas were governed by the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law which stated two basic requirements:  

  1. Giving advance public notice of each of its meetings, and 
  2. Conduct all of its business in open session, unless an exemption to the open session requirement applies.  

This means you need to make your agendas available to the public and all items must be talked about unless they are covered under the Closed Session portion of the law.  I imagine states across the country have similar or the same requirements governing their agendas.

All agendas, regardless of the governing body that’s meeting, should have (according to the Law): 

  • Time, date, place: including an address or room number
  • Subject matter of the meeting: be as specific as possible, instead of stating ‘Licenses’ change it to ‘Liquor Licenses for Rockdale Bar, Hering’s Lake Ripley Inn, and The Mink Farm Tavern’
  • Items to be discussed in a closed session (if applicable).

Distributing agendas means: 

  • Sufficient posting, at least 24 hours in advance, unless “for good cause” such notice is “impossible or impractical”.
  • Distributing means any way your residents typically get their information: a sign on the bulletin board, an ad in the local newspaper, a social media post or a notice to the municipal website. 

Any reasonable person can interpret these requirements to mean: agendas must show the location and time of the meeting, the topic of the meeting, in open and closed session, and must be posted at least 24 hours in advance.

All levels of government are required to operate in the most transparent way possible; getting an agenda on a website, posted around town, or published in a newspaper is crucial to ensure citizen participation in government, but also to follow the law.

Although a single sheet of paper, Agendas hold significant importance in local governance, with legal requirements and publishing obligations. Agendas carry planning and an outline of what to expect during the meeting.

That is why having a solid agenda is more important than ever, and the new ClerkMinutes tool can help.

ClerkMinutes, a new tool from HeyGov, offers local municipal workers to do their meeting minutes, in minutes. The tool uses AI technology to transcribe your meeting recording, using your agenda and the recording to create meeting minutes for you. 

The tool is currently used by over 60 municipalities across the country.

It takes three steps: 

Try out meeting minutes for yourself, it’s available free of charge, for anyone to use: https://clerkminutes.com/ 

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