The Belfast City Council took a step toward streamlining the documentation of city meetings Jan. 5, doing away with detailed meeting minutes in favor of an “actions only” transcript.

“Everybody wants to see different things in the minutes, and we don’t do verbatim,” said City Clerk Roberta Fogg, referring to a process that would yield a word-for-word account. City code requires only the written documentation of votes, and the idea of taking something less than comprehensive minutes has been floating around for years.

City Manager Joe Slocum broached the topic in a 2008 manager’s report, claiming that recording only motions and votes would save labor comparable to more than 30 working days per year.

“If anyone wants to understand exactly what was said, they simply go and review the recording of the meeting. I do it all the time and it is undisputedly accurate,” he wrote.

Slocum was referring to the videotapes of Council and planning board meetings that have been archived from live broadcasts since 2002.

Before the meetings were videotaped, they were audiotaped. Fogg said she has always referred to the recordings whenever there was a question about whether someone had said what she had written in the minutes.

Prior to changing the process at the last Council meeting, Councilors Roger Lee and Mike Hurley each claimed that they sought the video documentation whenever they had a question about what had transpired at a past meeting. In recent years, references to “reviewing the tape” have become more common at city meetings than citations from the archived minutes.

Fogg said she suspects the councilors have become more comfortable with the tapes over time. “Needs change over the times,” she said. “Councils change over the times.”

Belfast appears to be changing more quickly than its neighbors to the south. Camden and Rockland both continue to take detailed written minutes of their respective select board and Council meetings in addition to videotaping them.

Rockland City Clerk Stuart Sylvester said the written minutes constitute the official record and there are rarely discrepancies as to what was said at a meeting.

Camden City Clerk Melissa Geary painted a picture more like the Belfast of recent memory.

“We’ve talked about it [revising how meetings are documented] over the years, but the select board prefers the more comprehensive style of the minutes that we type up,” she said.

In addition to being videotaped, Camden select board meetings are archived on audiocassettes. Geary said she often refers to one of the recordings to resolve discrepancies in the minutes.

“It’s kind of overkill,” she said, “and nobody seems to come in and ask for the minutes that were typed up.”

Several smaller towns, including Searsport, Stockton Springs and Winterport take the middle road, limiting their documentation of the debate on any given topic to a one- or two-sentence synopsis.

“No three to four paragraphs of ‘he said, she said’ and yadda, yadda,” said Searsport Deputy Clerk Jeanine Tucker. “It’s also recorded on video,” she added.