Opening the Observer: LWV partnership is democracy in action

Soon after FutureHeights launched the Heights Observer in 2008, it developed a partnership with the Heights Chapter of the League of Women Voters, Cuyahoga Area (LWV) to produce the reports of city council, school board and library board meetings that are published in the newspaper.  As a citizen journalism project, the Observer relies on contributions from the community, and the reports of this well-respected organization seemed like a natural fit.

LWV is a political organization, organized on three levels—national, state and local—and dedicated to encouraging active voter participation and advocating for good government. LWV does not endorse particular candidates, but does develop positions on, and advocates for, policy issues. 

While the Observer partnership has enabled the local LWV chapter to reach a broader audience, both locally and nationally the LWV has, for many years, regularly attended and reported on local councils, boards and other public meetings to its members. The LWV’s detailed reports often include items that seem to be, or are, in fact, minor, but provide a more complete picture of what our elected officials do and how they spend taxpayer dollars. LWV reports serve the organization’s mission of being an advocate for good government and creating awareness of the need, on occasion, for public action.

LWV reports are edited and posted to an e-mail listserv of LWV members. Summaries of those reports are prepared for publication in both the online and print Heights Observer. Readers tell us that they appreciate that the summaries are a regular feature of our newspaper, even though there can be a significant lag from the time the meetings occur to when they appear in print. The online reports are published sooner and often contain more details.

Maryann Barnes, coordinator of the LWV’s observer reports, says that she currently has about a dozen volunteers in her corps.  Most are meeting observers; a few are editors and summary writers for the Heights Observer. She says she could use a few more: two for each of the city councils, one for the library board. She also welcomes volunteers who are willing to substitute for regular observers.

All observer volunteers must join LWV (dues are $60 dues per year) and abide by the organization’s principles. While the observer represents LWV, her or his job is to record and report. If an observer is to make a public comment at a meeting, it must first be approved by the LWV Cuyahoga Area president, the official spokesperson.  LWV observers must also be nonpartisan and must resign should they choose to run for office or actively support a candidate for office of the body they are observing. However, LWV doesn’t discourage such involvement. In fact, Sue Pardee, a former LWV observer, is now a member of the University Heights City Council.

In addition to its observer reports, LWV is well known for providing nonpartisan candidate information through public forums and voters’ guides. For the last several years, the Heights Chapter of LWV has partnered with FutureHeights and the Heights Observer to jointly provide these services to Heights residents.   

If you are interested in actively promoting good government in our community, I urge you to consider joining the LWV and becoming an observer. For more information, contact Maryann at maryannbarnes@roadrunner.com.

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

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Volume 5, Issue 6, Posted 12:35 PM, 05.30.2012