Save Time with Better Meeting Minutes: 4 Tips for Municipal Clerks
Did you know in a recent study of 170 municipal clerks, a full one-third believed their workload is unreasonable?
It makes sense. Clerks have a million things going on. Preparing agendas, posting notices, managing records, processing payroll, coordinating elections, arranging meetings—the list goes on and on and on.
And besides being the glue holding their municipalities together, there are those other—ahem—necessary clerical niceties (city leaders would like distilled water, not spring water at public meetings, for example).
So how do clerks make their workloads more, well…reasonable?
Try cutting down on process. And start with everyone’s favorite: recording meeting minutes. Here are some tips:
Templates, templates, templates. Did I mention templates? Having a meeting minutes template will save you loads of time. This is probably the easiest solution to headaches in the minutes process.
Different municipalities have different requirements for what should and should not be included in finalized minutes. For example, here is format advice from the Georgia Municipal Association:
- Call to Order
- Pledge of Allegiance
- Awards and Presentations
- Approval of Minutes
- Public Hearings
- Ordinances and Resolutions
- Bids, Contracts, Expenditures, and Agreements
- Local Funding and Requests
- Boards and Commissions
- Public Comment
Georgia Municipal association also has recommendations for what to include in the content of your minutes, which can be found here.
Having sections for each of these (or sections for similar requirements within your municipality) will cut down on time spent reinventing the wheel.
Don’t make minutes too specific
I know. You’re a perfectionist. That’s why you’re in charge of these types of things! But remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.
Being too meticulous when drafting minutes can be a bad thing. Unless there is an express need for verbatim minutes (some municipalities do require citizen comments to be recorded verbatim, so always double-check municipal requirements), you’re better off summarizing. For discussions around motions, Georgia Municipal Association, again, gives the following advice:
“When governing body members discuss motions, do your best to write down what they say. You should summarize what they say enough so that it’s sufficient in case someone comes back later with a question about that person’s comments.”
Being too detailed takes up more of your time and your staff’s time, and sometimes outside forces aren’t as understanding of your attention to detail. Just ask these well-meaning folks in Oregon.
Of course, you don’t want to be too broad either. There is a fine line. But remember: the goal of capturing minutes is to have a record of all the actions taken in a meeting so that the public can keep abreast of issues affecting their communities.
Make sure to investigate your municipality’s requirements for what does and does not need to be verbatim.
Okay, okay. This is our bread and butter here at Granicus. So I’d be remiss not to include automation as key to cutting down on wasted time in the minutes process.
Of course, you don’t need to use our minutes automation tool (although it helps) to do this. There are plenty of ways to automate. You can create your own automation process using Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Office, for example. Or you can create notebooks in OneNote, as it usually comes standard with most Microsoft Office suites. We don’t recommend the do-it-yourself method, but if you have to, those are some options.
If you use an agenda automation system, also try integrating your minutes system into it.
And if you’re on a budget, be sure to check out our post 4 Things to Automate When Resources Are Tight.
Remember: Content is usually 80 percent complete when the meeting ends. Try automating away time spent on that extra 20 percent.
Your meetings are too long
I’m sure you’re thinking, Cut down on meeting length? If only it were that easy!
I get that this isn’t always possible. But it makes sense, right? The longer the meeting, the longer your minutes will be. If you can, keep meetings as short as possible. Try and keep everyone on topic to the extent it’s your responsibility.
A big factor in meeting length is also your agenda. For a laser-focused meeting, build better agendas. Be sure to check out how Hyattsville, Maryland was able to save loads of time, as well as money, building better agendas.
Meeting minutes don’t have to be a headache and they don’t have to take up hours of your own precious time.
In fact, when done right, meeting minutes can actually save time. And, more important, they can increase civic engagement and trust within your community.
To learn more about our work helping communities build participation through more streamlined minutes, check out our work or contact us today!