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Local League of Women Voters Observer Program

What is it?

In a League observer program, members observe local public meetings on a regular basis and report their findings to the rest of the members. Observing can be a fairly simple and effective way to get members involved in League and aware of community issues. A league might choose to observe the local school board, the city council, city boards or commissions, or park or watershed districts. The object is to learn what is going on in the community, to evaluate the processes used by that governing body, and perhaps to track an issue on which League has a position.

Observing is an information-gathering project, like a League study. The information should be as accurate and fair as the observer can make it. Most observers take brief notes during the meeting and report back to the board or action committee either orally or in writing. The information may be shared with the general membership via the newsletter.

Action taken on the basis of the information gathered by an observer is a separate step usually requiring approval of the board.

Who observes?

Any member of League may observe. Those who volunteer are usually interested in learning more about a local level of government or in following an issue. Observing does not require expertise in an area, but background information is a big help to understanding what is going on at a meeting and to accurate reporting.

What does an observer do?

An observer obtains a schedule of meetings for the group he/she will be observing and arranges to attend those meetings on a regular basis. It is best if one person can attend several meetings so that the observer becomes familiar with the process, personnel and the issues. That is not always possible, of course, but at least try to pass on the notes from recent meetings so that the current observer is aware of the issues under discussion.

An observer wears a LWV button and arrives at the meeting early enough to introduce her/himself to the chair and find an agenda or any background material that is available to the public. Routine observers may ask to be placed on the mailing list for agendas and pre- meeting information.

An observer observes and reports, but neither comments during a public hearing nor lobbies publIc officials at any time during the meeting. Exception: When there is a clear procedural violation that should be brought to the attention of the entity being observed.  (All observers acknowledge that this is a difficult requirement when something arouses one's league or personal ire, but resist if you can and resolve instead to convince your board that action is needed.)

An observer may recommend action to the board based on information about issues or processes that have been observed. The decision to take action on the basis of a local, state or national position must be made by or with the consent of the board. Some leagues give that authority to an Action Committee.