A new watchdog organization has started to keep tabs on government organizations in Clark County.
Southern Nevada Watchdogs, started by two Las Vegas women in July, doesn’t yet carry the name recognition of other groups such as the Nevada Policy Research Institute that have been around for years and tend to focus more on state issues.
But with a willingness to volunteer time and put the power of social media to use, Melissa Letourneau and Tasha Heath are just getting started. Their grass-roots organization espouses values of personal responsibilities and freedoms, with limited government. The organization doesn’t have direct ties to political parties or broader national groups.
Their overall goal is simple: pore over county and city meeting agendas after they are posted and get information out to the public before votes are cast.
The two got acquainted and launched Watchdogs after noticing that they were both showing up at the same City Council meetings.
Letourneau, 28, said local decisions need more attention, adding that much focus is already directed toward the state and federal levels.
“A lot of what happens is imposed on the city and county level and people are just oblivious to it,” she said. “They don’t think it’s as important.”
The two have shown interest in public policy. Letourneau hosted “Raw Dialogue,” a weekly radio program she financed that ran on NewsTalk 720 KDWN from March to July 2012. Heath volunteered in the libertarian-minded former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s unsuccessful Republican presidential campaign in 2012.
Heath, 32, said they can have more of an impact on the local level and make their voice heard with officials who are already elected and making decisions. They don’t plan to make any endorsements during elections.
Most recently, the group used social media to let friends know about the Clark County Commission’s Sept. 3 meeting to vote on raising the fuel tax to pay for road projects. On their website, they post documentation and links to information.
Word is getting out. On Friday, their Facebook page had 121 likes since it formed on July 8. The website has an average of about 400 unique visitors each month.
The two work together and with different roles. Letourneau maintains the website, while Heath focuses on social media. Another volunteer keeps an eye on education issues and the Clark County School District.
While encouraging people to get informed, the organization doesn’t give its audience a line of argument to parrot back to city and county officials.
“We just spread the word if something comes up on the agenda,” Heath said. “We make them aware of what’s on the agenda and they can go fight it.”
As a result, the organization also highlights issues it might not have a strong stance on but that may interest others.
“If they become aware of it, they can always come down to voice their opinion in the opposite direction; it’s just a matter of at least it’s in the public forum a little more,” Letourneau said.
Given the voluminous materials to review in city and county agendas, the two don’t have the time to delve into issues of smaller arenas such as Henderson and North Las Vegas.
They’re focusing on quality instead of quantity.
“We don’t want to do it halfway,” Heath said.
Their simple start has similarities and differences compared to NPRI, a free market think tank that started in 1991 with a one-person staff. In the years since then, it has grown into an influential organization with a paid staff of 11.
In its early days, the focus was on a magazine and using traditional media such as radio and television appearances to develop a presence, spokesman Victor Joecks said.
With the availability of social media, new watchdog organizations can get the word out much more quickly, he said.
“It’s a great time for new citizen watchdogs to start up,” Joecks said. “Whereas before, there were substantial barriers to entry, they’re gone, which is great.”
He hasn’t heard of the new group. Regardless of technology, there’s no secret to sticking around long term, except for one.
“Persistence is the key,” he said. “There’s no magic bullet.”
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.