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Recording Abstentions in the Minutes of Meetings

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Reviewed Date: July 21, 2021

Original Author: 
Hemsley, Sid
Date of Material: 
Sep 30, 1997

City council--Procedure
City recorder

Recording Abstentions in the Minutes of Meetings

MTAS was asked whether the recorder should record abstentions in the minutes of meetings.

September 30, 1997

You have the following question: Should the recorder record abstentions in his minutes of meetings. The answer is yes.

Apparently the issue of how abstentions are counted for the purposes of calculating the vote of the city's governing body has caused considerable confusion. I probably caused some of that confusion with respect to whether such votes should be recorded in the minutes by pointing out by E-mail to an alderman that the city's charter provides that only the "ayes" and "noes" are recorded. However, I pointed that out for the purpose of explaining to him how votes are calculated for determining whether a measure passed, and for determining whether there is a tie vote for the mayor to break.

The recorder enters abstentions in the minutes for an entirely different purpose. His minutes are made for the purpose of keeping an accurate record of what happened in a meeting. Recording the ayes, noes and abstentions explains the action and inaction of all of the members of the governing body in the face of a measure up for a vote. Suppose the minutes show that Aldermen A, B, C and D are present, and that on a particular measure Alderman A, voted aye, Alderman B voted aye, Alderman C voted no, and Alderman D abstained. The minutes reflect not only that Aldermen A, B, and C voted and how they voted, but that Alderman D did not vote. Alderman D's failure to vote would not count as a no vote under the city's charter for the purpose of determining whether there were enough aye votes to pass a measure or to determine whether there was a tie for the mayor to break, but it would show what he did with respect to that measure. Certainly that information should be a part of the minutes.

That view is consistent with 62 C.J.S., Municipal Corporations, Sec. 409, which says that,

Since a municipal corporation can speak only through its minutes, it should keep a correct record of its proceedings, and in order for it to transact the business of the municipal corporation, the action taken by it should be promptly entered in the minutes and records of its operation,

The same is true with respect to 3 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, Sec. 14.092, which says that, "The essential thing is that the record [of the minutes] is an accurate account of what transpired, i.e., that the record is the clerk’s records, which show the truth."


Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant


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