Making Democracy Work

Observer Corps

Observer Corps

The League of Women Voters Observer Corps by Linda Belote and Krissy Sundstrom

If you are looking for a way to become involved in local government, consider the possibility of participation in The League of Women Voters Observer Corps in the Copper Country. The national League has published a booklet that describes the work of this group, lwvef_observingyourgovernment.pdf. It says "Protecting our right to know is integral to the health of our democracy. Decisions that determine how our schools will be run, at what level community safety programs will be funded, and how land in our towns will be used impact our lives and are vital to our well-being. These kinds of decisions need to be made with public input and oversight. One important way to ensure that is to observe government meetings. The League has been a champion of government transparency since our founding in 1920. It is one of our core principles and a vital part of our mission. Our efforts in this area reinforce our reputation of fairness, non-partisanship and trust. League members attend governmental meetings to learn what their government is doing and to monitor whether those meetings are conducted in an open and transparent way. Experience has shown the importance of the League being present to watch--and to take action when necessary."

"An observer is an individual who attends a governmental meeting, notes what happens at the meeting, and reports back to the League and (hopefully) the community. By attending public meetings of local governmental bodies/agencies, observers learn more about what their government is doing. They learn about the issues facing their community and are empowered to take action, if warranted. They also learn how issues are being addressed. 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 the open."

The Copper Country League of Women Voters Observer Corps presently has 2 members. Linda Belote observes the Houghton County Board of Commissioners, Krissy Sundstrom observes the School Board of Houghton Portage Township Public Schools. Krissy publishes her notes on the Houghton-Portage Schools Parent Network Facebook group. There are many other units of government active in the Copper Country: we have 2 cities (Houghton and Hancock), 5 villages, and 14 townships. None of these have League observers. There are in addition 9 public school districts and 2 universities; and many other public entities, like our public library, planning commissions etc. any of which could provide a valuable educational experience for a League member and our League would benefit from the knowledge gained too.

If you are interested in becoming an observer, please contact Linda Belote (lsbelote@mtu.edu 483-0552) for more information about what is expected of an observer. It is not usually a major consumer of time, most governmental units only meet once a month for an hour. It's a good use of time for yourself and your community. Linda and Krissy have also prepared a list of many possible governmental, public groups to observe giving the usual time and place of their meeting, though this can vary, and should always be confirmed with the officials directly.

Why Observe?

The first reason for observing public meetings is to watch their general operations. What issues are being discussed and how is the meeting being conducted? Does the agency comply with the open meeting laws?

The second reason for observing public meetings is to watch for issues on which the League should be taking action - speaking out. If an item that is being discussed is related to one of our positions then include that in your report. We'll look into it and see whether it's something that the League should be speaking out on.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, observing makes a statement that the community is watching the process of government. The League observer is the representative of the public at these meetings.

What to observe?

2019 Houghton County governmental units: Meeting time and place

Additional resources:

* LWVCC Guidelines for Observers

* Observing Your Government in Action

* Open & Public IV: A Guide to the Ralph M. Brown Act
http://www.cacities.org/UploadedFiles/LeagueInternet/86/86f75625-b7df-4fc8-ab60-de577631ef1e.pdf