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New coalition will improve citizen access to local government processes

What often makes a real difference in the lives of Thurston County residents are decisions about policies and projects made by the city councils, the Port of Olympia, and the county Board of Commissioners. To influence those decisions, residents are directed to contact their local appointed and elected officials directly or during public meetings.

But how can the public learn the pros and cons of local issues, and the date by which elected officials will make decisions concerning those issues? Sometimes print or online newspapers publish the information, but some jurisdictions follow procedures that create obstacles to transparency, accountability, and accessibility. When nonprofits or individuals point out these obstacles and suggest solutions, they may not be taken seriously. It often falls to “watchdogs”—individuals or organizations—to stay abreast of dates and times and to alert the citizenry when discussion and voting on important issues will occur.

Watchdog organizations are generally non-profit organizations specializing in one area of advocacy—environment, housing, health care, etc. They scan government records, meeting notices and agendas to discover when issues will surface. They must attend multiple meetings because published agendas often do not adequately describe what will take place and the recordings and minutes of those meetings are sometimes posted weeks later.

Monitoring and attending these meetings in local jurisdictions—cities, port, and county—is time-consuming. Nonprofit organizations are often short-staffed or run entirely by volunteers, and they have many duties in addition to monitoring government meetings. Sometimes they discover they have been duplicating each other’s work, or worse, that important issues have slipped by unnoticed until it is too late to alert people.

The Local Good Governance Coalition was formed in large part to address these problems. One of the coalition’s first tasks is to create a system for coalition members to monitor local governmental meetings and to share information inside the coalition about environmental and affordable housing issues as they arise. The hope is to publish a webpage with that information when that system is working smoothly.

People from ten local non-profits helped develop the LGGC, and after months of work, have come up with a democratic and non-hierarchical structure for the coalition, a mission statement, and operating principles. The first formal meeting of LGGC on March 9 will approve the initial member groups and individuals (associate members) who have signed the membership pledge.

Unlike many other coalitions that simply share information or focus on a time-limited project, the Local Good Governance Coalition plans to take action on selected issues and its work will be on-going. Their mission includes empowering community participation in local governments and connecting people and non-profits who promote environmental sustainability and affordable housing. By combining efforts, coalition members hope to be more efficient and to have a stronger voice.

The other currently agreed-upon action is to identify and overcome obstacles to residents’ access to local governments. The Coalition and other nonprofits have initiated discussions with some jurisdictions about recreating for participants, as much as possible, the experience of face-to-face public hearings and meetings when such events use virtual formats like Zoom.

The Local Good Governance Coalition may take on other actions, such as a Rights of Nature campaign for a local geographical feature or waterway, when membership grows.

To contribute to this effort as an associate member or to inquire about your group joining LGGC, contact WIP with LGGC in the subject line.

Charlotte Persons is a member of the League of Women Voters and serves on the board of Black Hills Audubon Society. She follows Thurston County development issues for WIP.


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