LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS-METRO ST. LOUIS: OBSERVER CORPS FAQS
What is the Observer Corps? The Observer Corps consists of League of Women Voters members who regularly attend the meetings of a specific public body, such as a city council, school board, or any other board or commission in the region. They then report back to the League any significant policy discussions or issues of transparency, civility, and process that they observe.
Who can be an observer? An League member may become an observer. You can go to meetings on our own or with another observer, and compare notes. You may attend virtually.
What do observers do? Observers keep elected and appointed officials on notice; they let them know that someone is watching what decisions are being made and how they are being made. They help ensure that the issues facing their community are being handled “in the sunshine,” in an open, acceptable way. Ideally, observers are monitoring both the issues being discussed as well as the process by which they are being discussed. Observers take notes on both issues and process and submit any significant information to the League president for possible distribution to the board.
What should observers NOT do? Observer programs are not vehicles for individuals to work personal or partisan agendas. Observers do not “act” on issues in these meetings. Unless serving as a designated spokesperson for the League, observers should not provide commentary or testimony on issues on behalf of themselves or the League. Instead, observers attend meetings to gather information. Through the process, their presence encourages better, more transparent government. Observer programs benefit both the observers and the community.
When and how often should I go to a meeting? You plan to attend meetings regularly. Meetings can also be observed online through streaming, although in person attendance makes you more visible to the participants and allows you to observe the entire process and environment. Check the schedules of local boards and councils to see when they meet, and if they are open. Arrive early enough to check in if required and find a seat. Wear a League button or Observer Badge.
Schedules of Local meetings:
St. Louis County Council meets every Tuesday, 6:30-7:30 at the Lawrence Roos Government Building, 41 S. Clayton, 1st floor Council chamber. See the St. Louis County website for exceptions.
St. Louis Board of Aldermen meets on Fridays, 10-11 a.m. Chambers Room 230
1200 Market Street St. Louis, MO 63103. See their website for schule updates.
St. Charles County Council meets on the second and last Mondays of the month, 7 p.m., 100 N. Third Street. For more information, see the County Council website.
Other public bodies meet monthly or bi-weekly. Meetings you might want to observe include your own city council, planning commission, board of adjustment, school board, charter school board, library or parks boards, or other commissions. We also need observers for important regional decision-making bodies, such as East-West Gateway Council of Governments, Bi-State Development, the Zoo Museum District, and Great Rivers Greenway. You may find meeting schedules and agendas for all public meetings on their websites.
How can you be a good observer?
Be a good listener and summarize and “interpret” the proceedings in a fair way;
Be interested in local government and/or issues being discussed by the governmental body you observe;
Be discrete and courteous;
Watch for issues that would be of particular interest to the League;
Avoid working on a personal or partisan agenda while serving as a League observer.
Decline to speak to reporters about League positions or your own opinions on issues.
How does the Observer Corps help the community and the League?
• Creating a civically engaged and empowered cadre of watchdogs;
• Connecting individuals (observers and others with whom their observations are shared) with local government, keeping you in touch
• Promoting open, transparent and accountable government
• Reminding elected/appointed officials of their responsibility to their constituents;
• Educating the public about issues impacting their communities and their lives; and
• Identifying areas where action or improvement is needed.
How does one become an observer?
Email president [at] lwvstl.org to express your interest and begin a discussion of what body you wish to observe and how you will report.
What are the advantages of being an observer?
League members aspiring to public office or service on a public body will gain insight about both the issues being discussed and the way that body conducts its business. Those considering a run for public office may build their skill set and determine whether they would enjoy serving on a board or commission by being a regular observer. In addition, observers experience satisfaction in reporting back to the League about exemplary or deficient processes and existing or potential decisinos of a particular board.
Inspirational Example: From Observer to Pioneer Policymaker
The late Harriett Woods, a two-time Democratic nominee for the United States Senate and a former Lieutenant Governor of the state of Missouri, credited the start of her political career to her role with the LWV of St. Louis observer corps. She was asked to monitor the University City Human Relations Commission. She was a dedicated observer and when a vacancy on the Commission occurred, Woods was appointed. She went on to run for local office and eventually became the first woman elected to statewide office in Missouri. She was a tireless advocate for women’s involvement in politics. Carol Portman, a member of the LWV of St. Louis, remembered Woods in her League’s newsletter, “To Harriett Woods, we say Thank You for the legacy…it is priceless.”