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Keeping minutes; DeKalb City Council discusses various issues regarding open records

Frances Loubere was disappointed. On June 11, Loubere spoke at the DeKalb City Council meeting, voicing her disappointment about Victor Wogen winning the 3rd Ward aldermanic election in April. She returned July 16 to express concern that her comments were not recorded as clearly as other comments from past meetings. It's one of several complaints the DeKalb City Clerk's Office has heard in recent weeks in regard to open records. Other concerns have revolved around how soon meeting minutes are posted online, even though the city has posted meeting minutes consistently with rules in the Illinois Open Meetings Act. According to the act, meeting minutes must be made public within seven days after they are approved by a group. DeKalb staff gave a report at the Aug. 13 city council meeting about efforts to put the entire meeting packet on the city's Web site and to show webcasts of the meetings. Staff has been working since early 2006 to have the computer capacity to add webcasts and online-accessible packets - which include all staff reports and documents pertaining to items talked about at council meetings - to the city Web site, Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu said. Webcasts and the full packet should be online by January, Espiritu said. &#8220Council had asked about it, and it seemed like a good time to give an update,” Espiritu said when asked why the report was given. In response to Loubere's comments at the July 16 meeting, City Clerk Donna Johnson has invited anyone interested in seeing what occurs in her office to spend some time there. Herb Rubin and Lynn Fazekas already have taken her up on the offer. &#8220We found there's a good backlog of information already on the computer of minutes, and they're easy to access,” Rubin said. &#8220We also found there might need to be better communication between her and the city of who was doing what when.” While not required by the Illinois Open Meetings Act, detailed inclusion of comments from both residents and politicians helps people to understand the nuances of what is decided, Rubin said. &#8220This city has always wanted a little bit of summary, but many do something called action minutes, which are a motion, a second and the vote, but no discussion,” Johnson said. &#8220If we tried to summarize everything everybody said, it would be a full-time job, and we don't have the staff to do so.” Johnson said she usually chooses to include details from comments that pertain to items on the meeting's agenda. Regarding Loubere's comments, she said in her experience they were not something people would be interested in later. &#8220We've had issue after issue over the years, and once they're done, there's no point in having it in the minutes,” Johnson said. Fazekas said her original concern was not just over the minutes' content but also over access to information from past meetings. Both she and Rubin said they left their meeting with Johnson feeling like the city is moving forward. &#8220The city was going in the right direction, with the improved broadcasts of the meetings, but it seemed time to push that a little,” Fazekas said. &#8220I've been involved in situations where I wanted to go back and look at meeting minutes; unless you have a pretty good idea of what exactly happened, you can't get there.” Suggestions made during the meeting involving Rubin, Fazekas and Johnson have resulted in another action: DVDs of recorded council meetings, going back for six months, can be checked out from the DeKalb Public Library. Copies of the DVDs also are available at the DeKalb Municipal Building for $5 each. Benji Feldheim can be reached at bfeldheim@ daily-chronicle.com.

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