Attendees at the March 16th LWVDV meeting learned how to be government watchdogs by keeping an eye on councils, boards, and commissions and reporting back to League committees. This is a critical need for democracy to work. As one of the presenters said, “It truly makes a big difference for officials to know they’re being observed by someone committed to good government.”
League officers and a panel of experienced observers provided detailed instructions about how to do this, including two excellent handouts: “LWVDV Observer Corps Reporting Form” and “Basics for LWV Diablo Valley Observers” and shared their personal experiences of observing for the League. Entertaining skits illustrated some how-to’s in common circumstances.
Highlights from the handouts and presentations:
- Sign up to receive meeting notices and agendas for the meetings you want to cover.
- Do a little homework: read agendas and backup materials before meetings.
- Learn about the Brown Act - it’s online.
- Introduce yourself briefly to the body at a public comment period when you begin observing, wear your League button and be ready to talk to officials and the public about league observers.
- Gather information from each meeting and use the LWVDV Observer Report Form as a guide.
- Report back!
Tips from the panel:
- Look at the organizations we cover to see if there’s a group that appeals to you topically, preferably in your district.
- You don’t need to attend every meeting. You can go online for minutes or watch televised meetings.
- Always remember you’re an ambassador for LWV, whether a government body is interested in your issue or not.
- If you are attending a meeting as an observer but want to personally weigh in on a topic, express your opinion with a phone call or written letter, BUT don’t go beyond your role as an observer. Observers watch and listen, but don’t speak on agenda items - if that is needed, it’s your job to notify the League members who speak for the League.
- Pay attention to other people attending these meetings to learn who else is interested in your issue.
- Note how members of commissions interact with each other to see who is supportive or not supportive.
- Report which members of a body are present or absent.
- Learn which staff members prepared the agenda report and which staff members are associated with an issue you’re observing.
- Learn what information you might gather to prepare for a meeting. Check to see if the League has a position on the issue under consideration.
- Add notes and backup information to the observer form and be ready to participate with Advocacy committees if they need feedback about how a council stands on an issue.
Are you a candidate to observe for the League? Here's a description of who might be a good observer for the League, from our LWVUS resource materials:
OBSERVERS: Serving as an observer is something that anyone can do. It is an opportunity for new or less active members to contribute to the organization’s work. It might be something that would appeal to students or new residents who are trying to learn more about their new community, or to recent retirees who have new-found free time and more flexible schedules. While there are no “qualifications” per se, ideally observers are:
• good listeners and able to summarize and “interpret” proceedings in a fair way;
• interested in local government and/or issues being discussed by the governmental body that they are observing;
• able to serve as an “ambassador” for the organization (e.g., talking about the organization with other attendees at a meeting);
• discreet and courteous;
• not working a personal or partisan agenda while serving as a League observer.
Melanie Speir, LWVDV Observer