From the Dec.30, 2009 issue:
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Tom Marking, the former manager of the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD), has apparently disposed of recent audio recordings of board meetings, along with the archives.
The board had instructed Marking to find an archiving agency, such as a library, to entrust with the recordings.
Instead, Marking apparently threw the archived recordings away just before he vacated his position as manager in May 2009.
This came to light last month when the county library offered to store the recordings for the agency.
The matter has brought accusations from the public that Marking had violated district policy and the wishes of the MCSD Board of Directors.
The MCSD’s minutes of monthly board meetings are relatively skeletal, so the only public records with details of the board’s deliberations and how are the audio recordings.
Public agencies are obligated to keep permanent records of the events that happen during their board meetings.
At the very least, they must keep minutes, written records which describe the legal actions taken during the meeting, such as resolutions passed or failed, how members voted, and the names of speakers.
Depending upon the agency’s policy, minutes can be very brief, or they can contain a great deal of detail about what went on.
For years, MCSD’s minutes were very detailed, but at thr recommendation of former Manager Marking, the board instructed its secretary to reduce them to a minimal level.
At present, the minutes only document the board’s official actions, and include one-sentence summaries of whatever discussion occurred.
Most agencies also choose to tape their meetings as well, using video recording if the agency can afford it or sound recording if the agency is on a lower budget. That way, anybody can re-visit the meeting and get a more complete picture as to what went on.
MCSD has routinely audio-recorded its meetings for decades, first using cassette tapes and two months ago upgrading to digital recordings.
Board decides to archive records
In July 2008, at the request of then-president John Corbett, the MCSD Board of Directors reviewed its policies for keeping old records.
Director Bill Wennerholm at that time made a motion to keep the tapes of the meetings for one year, and then to destroy them, unless a bona fide repository agreed to accept them.
Such a repository would be, for example, a library or a historical society where professional archivists preserve and file the records, while still allowing public access to them.
The motion to keep the tapes for a year was seconded by Director Jeff Dunk, approved by Wennerholm, Dunk and Corbett, the only three board members present at that meeting.
Marking was instructed to keep all tapes for at least a year and to find an agency to accept them afterwards.
But before the month was over, then-manager Tom Marking ordered his secretary, Sharon Denison, to box up all the tape recordings, including those which had just recently been made.
He then carried the boxes out of the building. Nobody knows what happened to them, although staff members assume the tapes were destroyed.
There is no record of Marking or any staff member attempting to find a repository for the tapes.
A phone call to Marking from the Press was not returned by press time.
Only three boxes of tape recordings, from 1994 to 1996, survived the purge.
The missing tapes came to light after MCSD Norman Shopay, who replaced Marking, followed through on the board’s request that an agency be found to store the recordings after one year.
At the November 18 meeting of the MCSD board, County Librarian Melinda Landry offered to store copies of the CDs made from recording the meetings, so that the public would have a way of listening to them. She suggested storing them for a period of five years.
The board passed a motion, agreeing to give the library a copy of each CD made from recordings of the meeting, and to retain the original recordings indefinitely.
At the Nov. 19 meeting, the issue of the missing tapes generated a lot of public comment.
Several people expressed dismay that the previous manager had disobeyed the board’s directive by allegedly destroying recordings that were less than a year old.
Wennerholm, however, was unimpressed.
“Those tapes are not legal documents,” he said. “They only have historical value.”
Some members of the audience disagreed with him, pointing out that the courts have at times expressed great interest in tape recordings.
Denison said that the MCSD office still has tapes recorded between July 2008 and the present, although the quality of the older tapes is not good.
At the MCSD board’s Dec. 16 meeting, McKinleyville resident Ron Coffman said that Marking had violated district policy.
“These tapes were an important way to get historical context, continuity, and accountability to the Board,” he said.
Coffman and Wennerholm soon got into a verbal confrontation, and tempers flared. Wennerholm, at one point, threatened to remove Coffman from the room if he continued to speak out of turn.