Few local residents have the time to read local government meeting agendas and backup materials. Even fewer have the desire to study such documents to learn about proposed ordinances, expenditures, contracts, licenses and permits.
However, many of these same citizens have the desire to learn about what their governments are doing. They just need someone else to have the persistence to do the reading and provide notification. Voters cannot have enough information on what their elected officials are doing and how they’re conducting the public’s business. And in the age of social media, there are few obstacles to prevent civic-minded individuals from building their own networks of followers.
Enter Las Vegas residents Melissa Letourneau and Tasha Heath. The two women have started their own grass-roots group, Southern Nevada Watchdogs. Its niche: local government, from the Clark County Commission to city councils to the Clark County School District.
The bigger the government, the more resources committed by traditional media outlets, advocacy groups and think tanks. As reported Monday by the Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin, Ms. Letourneau and Ms. Heath are happy to let others focus on state and federal issues, while they get information on local governments to the public before elected bodies take action.
“A lot of what happens is imposed on the city and county level, and people are just oblivious to it,” Ms. Letourneau said. “They don’t think it’s as important.”
Local government is far more likely to have contact with taxpayers than the state or federal bureaucracies, whether it involves land-use decisions, public safety, road maintenance or neighborhood schools. And the public is largely disengaged from the policymaking decisions that affect those issues. At the city level, it doesn’t help that Southern Nevada’s municipal elections are held in the spring of odd-numbered years, when voters are still hung over from nasty federal, state and county campaigns and are totally uninterested in ballots. Municipal voter turnout in this valley is awful, in the 10 percent range.
Southern Nevada Watchdogs uses social media, including a Facebook page, to get the word out on matters it considers important to the public. Its politics are right of center, favoring personal responsibility, freedom and limited government. But Ms. Letourneau and Ms. Heath say they aren’t interested in establishing a narrative for followers to adhere to, only to “spread the word if something comes up on the agenda,” Ms. Heath said. “We make them aware of what’s on the agenda, and they can go fight it.” The women say their organization won’t issue candidate endorsements during elections.
That the women attend government meetings and have put themselves forward as the faces of the group lends credibility to their cause. In contrast, Review-Journal columnist Glenn Cook wrote Sunday about the shadowy practices and political motivations of the anonymous social media campaign Nevada Judicial Watch.
As always, voters should digest as much information as possible, from as many sources as possible, before casting an educated ballot. The public is more than capable of seeing through smokescreens and sniffing out political garbage.
Welcome to the fray, Southern Nevada Watchdogs. The more people are involved in local government decisions, the better.