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Friday July 25th 2014

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How To Watchdog (and maybe even participate in) Local Government

by Jessica Forbes

In December, the removal of trees ahead of road work at the intersection of Scenic Highway and Interstate 10 came as a surprise to many, including some of our local elected officials. The upset surrounding the clearing of the trees got us thinking here at the IN offices about community involvement, and the ways in which citizens can inform themselves about what is in store for their neighborhood, city and county.

Although it’s pretty much a full time job to keep up with the inner workings of local government and most people have other activities to occupy their time, there are a few options for those who would like to tune in a little more to local politics. There is always the option of reading local newspapers (and we thank you for that) or watching the local news to stay informed. Still, at the start of a new year, considering other outlets—including greater personal involvement, such as attending a meeting or two—might be worth a shot.

Civic Lessons
Do you ever have ideas that you think might make the city and/or county better? Have you seen something that you think is problematic that local officials may need to address? Many of us are guilty of complaining about what’s wrong, or dreaming about what could make the community better, but never take the next step to get the ball rolling, so to speak.

On the other hand, perhaps you rarely consider what our local officials are up to, or the issues that come before them. But perhaps having a foggy or better-than-foggy notion of what’s going on in our area has become more appealing to you and you’d like to know how to access information about local government.

To know what city and county officials are considering at their regular meetings, you can subscribe to notifications that will give you direct access to agendas. Perusing the agendas could alert you to a topic of interest that may urge you to contact your city or county representative. And while notifying officials of an issue doesn’t assure they will take immediate action, there’s a chance that your words might have an effect. At the very least, reaching out to an official, whether via email, phone, or social media gives you a chance to voice what’s important to you outside of voting every couple of years.

Pensacola City Council: Pensacola City Council meetings are typically held twice monthly, on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Ahead of the meetings, usually the Monday before, the council holds Agenda Conferences during which the agenda items for the regular meeting are set. No clue who your council representative is or perhaps you just want to learn a little bit about the council members? Visit cityofpensacola.com/council for short bios, links to agendas and videos, or, if you’re just getting started, to find out in which district an address falls using CityView, the city’s mapping software. Contact information for each of the council members is also available online.

Escambia County Board of County Commissioners: The County Commissioners meet on the first and third Thursdays of the month, with Agenda Reviews held the morning of each meeting. Proposed agendas are available online ahead of the conferences. For basic information about the commission and its members, visit myescambia.com/districts. Bios, contact information, and links to Twitter feeds for individual districts are just some of the information available. An interactive GIS Map of Commission Districts—again, five total districts for those just getting started—is also accessible via the website. Taxpayers are footing the bill for the web features, so we may as well use them, no?

Need a Reminder?
For most people, keeping up with the activities of local government is yet another item on a list of activities we aspire to maintain. But like many New Year’s resolutions, keeping focused on the goal year-round often suffers. The good news is, in our hyper-connected world, it is more convenient than ever to keep abreast of what’s going on in the halls of power. Local government is no exception. If you regularly check email or utilize a smartphone or tablet, there are several ways to have local government deliver updates directly to you.

The city offers a variety of reminders and alerts, including meeting notices with links to agendas at cityofpensacola.com/List.aspx. To connect with what’s going on at the county level, click “Notify Me” on the myescambia.com home page to choose which email updates you would like to receive, including updates for individual districts, general alerts, and purchasing notifications, among others. You can also subscribe to RSS Feeds, and find links to other social media outlets at myescambia.com/contact/social.