The Why and Wherefore of Meeting Minutes

Sarah E Merkle
3 min read

Ranking high in the list of “Thankless Duties During Board Meetings” is the recording of minutes. No one wants this responsibility. And few understand the purpose.

But, of course, there’s the flip side: When someone does want to see the minutes – and right now would be great, please – everyone expects the minutes-taker to be able to immediately produce an organized, simple, thorough document.

Why Take Minutes?

So, let’s start with the reasons for recording minutes at all – because it’s not just about satisfying requests to take a walk down the organizational memory lane. Robert’s Rules makes it clear that accurate minutes are a parliamentary procedure “must.” Here’s why.

  1. Minutes Are Required by Law

Newsflash: The law requires that local governments keep minutes of the proceedings of town councils, boards, committees, and the like. And, make them publicly available too.

It is your duty, in maintaining legal compliance, to know what state or local laws specify on these and other matters concerning the minutes. For example, is there legal requirement regarding the particular details which must be recorded in the minutes? Or does the law state when minutes must be made public following a meeting? Keeping accurate, current minutes is an important part of documenting decisions to demonstrate an organized, compliant approach to local governance and strategic planning.

  1. Minutes Save Time and Help Prevent Confusion

Let’s face it – meetings can be boring, even mind-numbing, (i.e., a perfect recipe for distraction and a great excuse to check every app on your phone). Even without long‑winded speeches and endless agenda items, the details of a meeting can be hard to follow if amendments and procedural motions are in play. The upshot? It’s easy to leave a meeting without a clear understanding of actions taken.

Minutes to the rescue! Minutes fill this memory gap and provide a record of motions that passed and failed. Well-organized minutes act as a ready reference down the road when a member wants a quick answer to previous decisions on a specific topic. More on this in a minute . . .

  1. Minutes Protect Against Baseless Accusation

A little background first. What is included in minutes? Robert’s Rules advises that in addition to recording any actions taken, minutes should also list the type of meeting (regular, special, etc.); the date, time, and place; any notice required for specific motions; and who was present.

And – finer point – you have two options on the “who was present” part of the record: Include names of everyone there, or for large groups, a statement that “a quorum was present at the start of the meeting.” Again, check the law to make sure you’re including any required detail about who was present.

So, taking minutes (and including the details above) is an issue of prudence. For members interested in challenging actions your council has taken, quorum and notice are easy targets. Having minutes that are “air tight” on those factors goes a long way toward quieting any accusation that “you didn’t tell us about the meeting” or “you voted on ____ without enough people there.”

  1. Minutes Provide a Basis for Future Action

Finally, minutes are an extremely helpful tickler file, serving as a quick glance reminder about where you’re at on various topics, such as . . .

  • which motions were referred to which committees
  • when committees are slated to report back
  • what’s happening next
  • upcoming deadlines
  • topics the group wasn’t ready to discuss (motions postponed indefinitely or tabled)
  • next steps on the strategic plan put in place a few meetings ago

Who Gets to See Minutes?

Point two referenced the historical rationale for minutes – recording details in case anyone asks to see what happened in past meetings. But honestly, for the minutes-taker, requests to see past meeting minutes can often be a hassle. So, when does the secretary have to comply and produce?

Bottom Line

In sum, taking meeting minutes might be laborious (and thankless), but doing the job and doing it well will keep your local government out of trouble, allow individuals to review as appropriate, and help the group move forward efficiently.

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Sarah E. Merkle
Sarah E. Merkle is one of only five lawyers in the world to have earned the two highest parliamentarian certifications. For fifteen years, she has helped local, regional, and national clients make decisions that honor the law and efficiently move business forward without disruption. Sarah serves as the blog editor and primary contributor for The Law of Order: A Resource on Parliamentary Procedure & the Law. She knows that parliamentary procedure is about more than taking minutes or understanding the latest edition of Robert's Rules of Order. She views meeting rules as a tool to help organizations'small and large'achieve their goals and navigate the sometimes crazy world of governance. And as a former educator, she knows how to make the tricky parts understandable. Sarah works at Civility, LLC. She can be reached at Read her other posts at