Article 33C of General Statute 143 establishes requirements for the meetings of public bodies. G.S. § 143-318.10(e) specifies,
“Every public body shall keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings, including any closed sessions held pursuant to G.S. 143-318.11. Such minutes may be in written form or, at the option of the public body, may be in the form of sound or video and sound recordings. When a public body meets in closed session, it shall keep a general account of the closed session so that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired. Such accounts may be a written narrative, or video or audio recordings. Such minutes and accounts shall be public records within the meaning of the Public Records Law, G.S. 132-1 et seq.; provided, however, that minutes or an account of a closed session conducted in compliance with G.S. 143-318.11 may be withheld from public inspection so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.”
The State Archives of North Carolina identifies minutes as essential records that document the rights and obligations of entities. They are also records with historical value necessitating permanent retention because they provide a concise record of actions taken (or not taken) by the participants in these decision-making bodies.
In the process of generating Records Transfer Agreements based on the new Functional Schedule for North Carolina State Agencies, the Government Records Section has been attempting to identify the public bodies that are generating minutes and to confirm how these essential records are being maintained. The minutes of governing and advisory bodies (RC No. 635.P) fall into one of three categories:
- Governing bodies that transfer their original minutes for permanent retention at the State Archives (many of whom also keep a reference copy in office, often in the form of minutes uploaded to a website)
- Advisory bodies that retain their original minutes in office and transfer a copy to the State Archives to be held permanently in security storage (i.e., remaining in the legal custody of the creating agency) (NOTE: This option includes the possibility of temporarily transferring original minutes to the State Archives to be microfilmed, with that microfilm becoming the security copy and the original copies being returned to the creating agency.)
- Other public bodies that retain their original minutes permanently in office
Records analysts are in the process of contacting Chief Records Officers for state agencies to guarantee all minutes have been placed in the appropriate group. Moving forward, we also hope to be able to standardize what documentation should be a part of minutes. Here are the items that are necessary to document in minutes:
- Date of the meeting and time it was called to order
- Names of meeting participants (plus any absentees), including indication of whether a quorum is present
- Corrections/amendments to previous meeting minutes
- Actions taken or agreed to be taken, including motions, voting, rationale, and next steps
- Attachments necessary for decision-making at the meeting
- Open discussion/public participation
- Time of adjournment and date and time of next meeting
By documenting these items thoroughly, it will not be necessary to include the agenda separately because it will be reflected in the minutes themselves. Other records that do not need to be included in the minutes are meeting reminders and logistics, public records requests, personnel information, and public relations materials. According to our colleagues at UNC School of Government,
“’full and accurate minutes’ need only include a record of actions and of the existence of the conditions needed to take action, such as the presence of a quorum or the fact that a legally required public hearing was held. A detailed record of discussion is not generally required unless the board is meeting in a quasi-judicial capacity.”
If you’re looking for additional guidance, Coates’ Canons, a blog from the UNC School of Government, has much more information about open meetings as well as other topics related to government law.
Agencies should be aware that according to the Administrative Procedure Act (G.S. 150B-21.2(i)), the agency must keep a record of all rule-making proceedings, including “all written comments received, a transcript or recording of any public hearing held on the rule, any fiscal note that has been prepared for the rule, and any written explanation made by the agency for adopting the rule.” Therefore, if the rule-making proceedings for your public body coincide with ordinary meetings, it would likely be best for those minutes to be treated like Group 2 as defined above (i.e., originals will be retained in office with a security copy held at the State Archives; the creating agency will be responsible for answering all public records requests).