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Some Find Flaws in Meeting Agendas in Easton

EASTON, Conn. — The town's meeting agendas are often "cryptic," Beverlee Dacey said, which can lead to danger down the road.

"I think everything is cryptic. There's enough on the agenda to give you some indication that there's a subject matter on the table – and it could or could not be a concern," said Dacey, an Easton resident. Specifically, she cited the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education. "You learn when it's cryptic to attend the meeting. ... Something that evolved into a nightmare was the ordinances which were changed at last town meeting and now it's coming back to haunt us."

The town is required to post agendas for meetings at least 24 hours in advance, and the agenda can be changed with a two-thirds vote of the present members. Any votes taken at the meeting must be posted within 48 hours and minutes must be posted within seven days. The agendas can be found at the town clerk's office and are posted on one of three bulletin boards at Town Hall. Many are also posted on the town's website – but not all. Dacey said the website could be used more effectively to disseminate information.

Easton resident Grant Monsarrat said, generally, you can get a "flavor" from the agenda of what will transpire at a meeting, but it doesn't give enough "specifics to give a hard and fast picture of what it's all about – but I'm not sure that's the job of the agenda."

First Selectman Thomas Herrmann said the agendas posted by some boards and commissions are a "concern" for him. "I see the same agendas posted meeting after meeting. The Board of Selectmen agendas are highly topic specific. I see general agenda items [from other boards and commissions] such as, review correspondence, review old business, review new business, take any action commission deems appropriate. It may be boards and commissions that may not have regular public attendees, but that's not an excuse."

Tom Hennick from the state Freedom of Information Commission recently visited Easton to show board and commission members how to prepare minutes, said Herrmann.

"Minutes tend to be more than is explicitly required by FOIA. What most boards do is they tend to characterize discussions – which is often helpful but not strictly a requirement. For someone trying to find out after the fact – more is better," said Herrmann. "Generally speaking, they do a good job. Members understand their responsibility and take it seriously."

The minutes from meetings are filed in the vault at the town clerk's office by date. Some are posted on the town's website – but not all. It is not a requirement to post them on the website.

"[Freedom of Information] standards are that you have to report, as a minimum, any decisions made – some barely meet that requirement. The extreme is that you ought to reflect what happened – virtually nobody meets that standard," said Buckley, who writes the minutes of town meetings. "Town meeting minutes are extensive and a lot of people don't like it. I try to put in everything that happened so in 20 years, people can come back and see why decisions were made."

Monsarrat said, in general, anyone not at a meeting would be "completely clueless" as to what went on based on the minutes. "I don't think the minutes can provide all the background and conversations necessary for understanding a complicated issue," said Monsarrat, who said it's "very, very helpful" that some of the meetings are taped and broadcast on cable TV.

Dacey said she thinks there is "selective editing" in the minutes, which she said don't necessarily represent what she sees and hears at meeting.

"There's not enough time to listen to the tapes to show it's not the same. [I want] less interpretation and more facts. The Board of Finance minutes are more factual ... a number of people complain that items were left out of the minutes – particularly public participation," said Dacey.

Do you think the town does a good job providing information to the public in a clear, understandable manner? Send your comments to shenry@thedailyeaston.com , or leave your opinions in the comment box below.

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