ITHACA, N.Y.—When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the patterns of daily life and launched the world into crisis mode, there was a widespread breakdown in the City of Ithaca’s system to make the meeting minutes of its governing bodies available to the wider public—though videos of the meetings have been consistently posted. The issue is still yet to be resolved, but city officials say they’re working on it. 

The City of Ithaca utilizes a records management software from the company Laserfiche to disseminate meeting minutes among other materials. Currently, the proper Laserfiche page shows that minutes are missing for Common Council meetings going all the way back to February 2020. The minutes for January 2020 are present, as well as the minutes for July, March and November 2021.

The case is similar for the meeting minutes of numerous other public bodies in the city, such as the Community Police Board, which is missing minutes for all of its meetings from 2020 through 2023, as well as the important Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC), and City Administration Committees (CAC). The last time minutes were logged for the PEDC was in January 2020, and the CAC saw its last minutes filed in September 2020.

Minutes provide an important distilled record of what happened in the meetings of public bodies. They’re supposed to display at least what motions were made and what votes occurred. New York Coalition for Open Government (NYCOG) President Paul Wolf told The Ithaca Voice that in order for city government to remain remain in compliance with the New York State’s Open Meetings Law, Ithaca’s Common Council, its committees, as well as many other public bodies in the city, are “required to post meeting minutes online, within 14 days of a meeting occurring, either they have to post the minutes or a recording.”

In response to a request for comment on the missing minutes, City of Ithaca Chief of Staff Deb Mohlenhoff sent a written statement from Ithaca Mayor Laura Lewis on Thursday. The issue, they say, is pandemic disruptions and the ensuing staffing challenges. 

“The pandemic, and ultimately the many resulting retirements, greatly strained many city functions, including the Clerk’s Office. This is the same department that was also responsible for vastly expanded IT services delivery due to the pandemic,” Lewis said. “The Clerk’s Office remains hard at work on the sizable task of bringing city meeting minutes up to date. In the meantime, we refer the public to the archived recordings of council and committee meetings, which have been and remain on the city’s YouTube channel.”

The City of Ithaca’s recently appointed City Clerk, Alan Karasin, said via email that his office is pushing through the backlog of meeting minutes. He added that former City Clerk Julie Holcomb is still helping on a contract basis to take on the workload. 

Since the City of Ithaca has consistently uploaded recordings of its meetings to its YouTube channel, Wolf, who is an attorney, said that the city is “probably” in compliance with state law. The recordings, he added, “should be linked somehow to their website, or there should be some indication as to how people can find them.” He called the maintaining of meeting minutes “just an important way to inform people.” If they’re going to be politicians, Wolf said, they should want the public to know what they say and do.

Currently, it’s general practice for the city to provide a hyperlink to its YouTube channel in their meeting agendas, instead of linking the recording of the meeting that the agenda is associated with.

Relaying Lewis’ response to The Ithaca Voice, Mohlenhoff wrote in an email that, “It’s not very intuitive, but on the City’s YouTube channel, you can find recordings of all the meetings at the LIVE tab at the top.”

It appears that all the city’s recorded meetings are currently available under the LIVE tab on its YouTube page. Otherwise, it can be challenging to find the recordings of specific meetings using YouTube’s search function, at least in the experience of this reporter.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn