Imagine you are reclining in your favorite barbershop chair, readying for a nice relaxing shave. To your surprise, your favorite barber has called out sick, and a new person is preparing your lather. As he strops the blade, you wonder why you should trust this perfect stranger with a straight razor. The answer? The Alabama Board of Cosmetology and Barbering (ABOCB).
You remember that the ABOCB licenses both cosmetologists and Class 2 barbers within Alabama. Glancing up, you see this new barber proudly displays his certification –a quiet assurance of a quality shave. You can enjoy similar confidence when driving across a bridge or eating at your favorite restaurant, knowing that these conveniences of modern life are thoroughly vetted by professionals. While ABOCB licenses Alabama’s barbers, other outlets assure the expertise of our doctors, the safety of our bridges, and the professionalism of our first responders. As such, state agencies, boards and commissions serve as regulators, advise on policy, and support professional services. They document their decision-making within their mandatory meeting files.
Starting this week, you can view and download meeting files from twenty-nine different state agencies on the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) Electronic Records Collection. These meeting files consist primarily of meeting minutes, though some also include agendas and informational packets.
Many of the meeting files found in the ADAH Electronic Records Collection document the decisions of Alabama’s professional licensing boards (for instance, the Firefighters Personnel Standards and Education Commission; the Board for Registration of Architects; and the Athlete Agents Commission) while other meeting minutes capture the operations of government departments or services (such as the Alabama Department of Transportation; Secretary of State and the Sports Hall of Fame).
In 2020, the ADAH requested that state agencies transfer any readily available electronic meeting minutes, packets, and agendas to the Archives as part of the Annual Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Implementation Report. The ADAH will provide continued access to the minutes through Preservica, a cloud-based subscription service that provides access to electronic records and migrates file formats to ensure their long-term preservation. The meeting files collection is expected to grow as the ADAH continues to request annual transmittals of electronic meeting files beginning in the 2021 fiscal year.
What do Meeting Minutes Include?
Meeting minutes are formally recorded notes describing what transpired during a meeting. They provide a recounting of the key issues discussed and the outcomes of any votes taken. Once reviewed and approved by members, minutes become legal documents supporting the board’s adherence to proper procedures and legal requirements. In Alabama, government agencies are subject to the Open Meetings Act. Minutes from board or commission meetings are permanent records which must be made available to the public as soon as practicable after approval.
The Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-25A-4 requires that minutes include the date, time, and location of the meeting, the names of members and whether they are present or absent; and a record of any action taken at the meeting. Beyond these minimal guidelines, boards and commissions may exercise flexibility in how they record meeting minutes. The Board of Cosmetology and Barbering minutes, as seen above, include all required items and a short description of any issues brought for a vote in a concise format. In contrast, a sample page from the meeting minutes of the State Oil and Gas Board showcases how this board opts for a transcript of their meetings.
What do Meeting Minutes NOT Include?
While the style of minutes can vary, meeting minutes do not include personal opinions of the recorder nor physical descriptions of the location or attendees. Minutes also do not include what happens during executive sessions, which are closed to the public. The meeting minutes will note the time an executive session began and when members returned to the open meeting after the session.
What Research Value do Meeting Files Have?
Chiefly, meeting minutes bear witness of meeting proceedings, offering snapshots of deliberations and decisions. Secondarily, researchers often harness meeting files to study trends and frame tricky problems.
Additionally, meeting files that include packets offer researchers a chance to gain a fuller understanding of the holistic work performed by a board or commission. For example, a researcher looking through the Commission on Higher Education meeting files will find background information on a specific university board nominee in the packet. The researcher can then discover if the nominee was successfully appointed by reading the outcome of the votes provided in the meeting minutes.
COVID-19 and teleworking conditions have manifested another utility of proper meeting minutes. Researchers can consult 2020 meeting files’ format and content to visualize the effects of COVID-19 on operations in the state of Alabama. Such meeting minutes reveal ongoing discussion of distance learning for professionals, the continued closures of stores, the unavailability of services, and concerns over the health of Alabamians.
COVID-19 also warranted major changes in how meetings are conducted and recorded. Statutorily, the Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-25A-5 restricts members of a board or committee from establishing a quorum and voting at a meeting via telephone or computer. In light of COVID-19 and as part of her March 18, 2020 proclamation, Governor Ivey temporarily suspended this restriction and allowed members of a board or commission to meet via teleconference due to the global pandemic.
Ready to start researching?
- Access the meeting files with the ADAH Electronic Records Collections
- Expand on what you’ve learned from the meeting minutes available on the ADAH Electronic Records Collections by continuing your research with older minutes or Committee Journals, if available, in the ADAH Research Room
- We feel confident that these meeting files will be valuable in helping you learn more about your Alabama government. Enjoy your research!