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TOWNSEND — The public will have to wait a bit longer for access to municipal meeting minutes, despite an attempt by Town Clerk Susan Funaoile to speed up the process.

Annual Town Meeting voters this week rejected, 48-39, Funaoile’s warrant article that would require meeting minutes be given to her office within four weeks of conclusion. Boards that meet less than every four weeks would have had to turn in their paperwork five days following their meetings.

Funaoile said the purpose of her warrant article was for the convenience and availability of the public.

“The public can get draft minutes from any board. We get phone calls asking for them,” she said.

Conservation Commission Chairman John Stonefield was the first to respond.

“That would be an impossible situation, due to meeting schedules and sometimes three or four hearings (in one session),” he said. “Sixty days may be possible, 90 days would be reasonable.”

Selectmen Chairman David Chenelle agreed, saying, “This places a lot of burden on volunteers. It’s unreasonable.”

One resident immediately countered.

“This is not for the convenience of a board. We deserve to find out what was done. It’s long overdue,” the unidentified speaker said.

School Committee member Frederick Wheeler asked Town Counsel Kay Doyle to advise how the article complies with the Open Meeting Law.

Doyle said that while accurate records are required by law, there is no specific requirement as to when to file minutes. They are, however, required to be available to the public in a “reasonable time.”

Asked if the article is in response to a violation, Doyle said she is not aware of any.

Laurie Shifrin said she would not recommend that draft minutes be disseminated, and that a “reasonable time” is open to interpretation.

“These are volunteer (minute takers). It’s one thing if you have staff, but this would be an unfair burden,” she said. “I understand wanting the minutes and posting them on the town Web site.”

Another speaker said that obviously the article came forward because minutes are not turned in. Different committees have different requirements, but they should be forced to work with the clerk in a “timely fashion” rather than having one rule fit every board and committee.

“I’m rather lenient,” Funaiole said. “Other towns require them within two weeks after a meeting.”

“We had asked for minutes and to date we haven’t got them,” Warren Road resident William Hackler said. “This is not unreasonable, (but) maybe some minutes need to be pared down and paraphrased.”

“We take full minutes of everything said because we need them for review or if decisions are challenged in court,” Stonefield said. “This is impossible in 30 days.”

A suggestion was made that approval of minutes could be done electronically, which drew mumbled references to “serial meetings” from Finance Committee members. An example of a serial meeting is when strings of e-mail messages are shared amongst committee members when they are not meeting in public in a posted meeting.

“No,” Doyle said. “That would lead to comments (between members) that go beyond minimal response.”

A request to move the question was approved with two or three voice votes in the negative. The 48-39 rejection of the article was taken by standing vote.

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