Honorable Bruce A. Wilson State Senator, Second District
P.O. Box 553
Omak, Washington 98841 Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 19 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on a question pertaining to public inspection of the minutes of a meeting of the governing body of a public agency under RCW 42.32.030.
The statute to which you have referred provides as follows:
"The minutes of all regular and special meetings except executive sessions of such boards, commissions, agencies or authorities shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection."
Although you have identified this provision as a part of the 1971 open meetings act (chapter 250, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.), it is, in fact, a carry-over from the prior law, not repealed by the 1971 act, which was originally enacted pursuant to chapter 216, Laws of 1953.1/ Your question, as we understand it, is whether this statute requires secretarial notes or a stenographic tape of the proceedings of a public agency's meeting to be available and open to public inspection prior to the time that they have been formally recorded and officially approved as the "minutes" of the particular meeting.
In so far as is relevant to this question, we note, first, that the term "minutes" (when used to describe the written record of a meeting) is defined in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, at [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] page 1440, to mean
": a series of brief notes taken to provide a record of proceedings (as of an assembly or conference) or of transactions (as of the directors of a corporation); specifically: an official record composed of such notes . . ."
In Robert's Rules or Order Revised (75th ed.) the formulation and adoption of the minutes of a meeting are described in some detail at pages 247-250, a copy of which we have enclosed for your immediate reference. From a reading of this material it will be seen that, consistent with the foregoing dictionary definition, a distinction is generally drawn between the preliminary notes of a particular meeting and the official minutes as published following their formal approval at the next meeting of the body. Only after the proposed minutes of a meeting have been reviewed by the body and signed by its officers in the manner provided for in its procedures do they constitute the "official" record of the previous meeting described therein.
In considering RCW 42.32.030, supra, it is, of course, fundamental that the words appearing therein are to be given their commonly accepted meaning in the absence of some clear indication of legislative intent to the contrary. Accord,Crown Zellerbach Corp. v. State, 53 Wn. 2d 813, 328 P. 2d 884 (1958), and cases cited therein. In view of the foregoing definition and discussion of the meaning of the term "minutes" when used to describe the written record of a meeting, we must conclude that such stenographic notes or tapes as you have referred to simply do not constitute the "minutes" of a public meeting in that form. They become the "minutes," and hence open to public inspection, only after they have been transcribed and recorded ‑ and then officially adopted by the body at its next meeting. For this reason we believe that your question, as stated above, must be answered in the negative.
In thus concluding we would hasten to add that another word appearing in the subject statute ‑ the word "promptly" ‑ must also be given its usual and [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] ordinary meaning. Webster's definition of this word equates it to ". . . : at once: immediately, quickly."2/ From this we would conclude that it is a requirement of the statute that the minutes of each meeting of a governing body be formulated and recorded ‑ and then presented to the body for official adoption ‑ as soon as possible after they have been formulated. We would take this to mean that the minutes of any particular meeting must be acted upon by the body at its immediately next ensuing meeting wherever possible. Thereafter, this documentary recapitulation of the proceedings recited therein will constitute the official "minutes" of the body and will, statutorily, be "open to public inspection."
We trust the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, AGO 1971 No. 33 [[to King Lysen, State Representative on October 29, 1971]], at page 3.