Tag Archives: Patrick Enders

LWV Observers offering opinions on local issues: I like it. However…

League of Women Voters Northfield-Cannon Falls

In a comment thread discussion last week about the EDA and the City Council, Victor Summa referenced a recent council work session report by League of Women Voters Northfield-Cannon Falls (LWVNCF) Observer Jane McWilliams:

If you’re interested in a point of view on this subject, you might visit the League of Women Voters Observer Reports. Jane McWilliams covers the UN-events of the Council/Clough discussions, the meeting of sorts of the EDA and the Council and in her recent post adds an informed comment on her personal perspective.

Here’s an excerpt of Jane’s comments:

After Tom Cough’s interviews with council and EDA, in April he and City Administrator Tim Madigan recommended a series of steps for the council. Rather than take the radical approach evolving in tonight’s discussion, which will further delay effective attention to economic development during the transition, in this observer’s view, council would have been wise to adopt those recommendations on April 5:

Should the LVW Observers be commenting? Patrick Enders noted in the EDA discussion:

I remember when the LWV used to sponsor Presidential debates, and as a kid, I thought of the League as a neutral arbiter and provider of information. As an adult, I’m not quite clear how the League’s non-partisan “education” role is reconciled with it’s “advocacy” role.

I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the purpose of the LWV logs of meetings and sessions is primarily dedicated toward the “informed voter” mission. But what about the comments? Are these part of the “advocacy” mission? Are they only the opinions of the observer themselves? Does the presence of these comments imply a position by the League?

It all seems a bit muddied to me.

Their Mission (from the LWVNCF About Page) says:

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

We don’t support or oppose candidates.

  • We support issues.
  • We support legislation.
  • We focus on the future by tuning in to issues that affect us all.
  • We shape public policy.

I really like it that the Observers are opinionating. (LWVNCF observers have been doing these occasional middle-of-the-report commentaries for many months but I’d forgotten about it.) As citizen volunteers with months (years?) of observing public bodies, they’re well-informed about the issues and the players. They surely have their biases but by being more transparent about their positions, we can all benefit, whether or not we agree.

I think the format for Observers’ commentary is problematic. Yes, their comments are embedded in the reports in bold or italics but without a separate blog post or attached comment with an associated permalink, I can’t easily link to them, subscribe to them, forward them, or tweet them. The format is not social-media friendly.

Moreover, the format presumes that reading the report first is the best way to engage the reader. It’s like school: Class, read this article and then we’ll discuss it. I prefer the salon approach: Let’s have some juicy conversation about this issue first and then some of us might be inspired to do some background reading about it.

Also, the League’s own Observers don’t seem to be getting the hang of the discussion format. Northfield Hospital Board Observer Dave Emery’s May 26 report has a comment by fellow Observer Jane McWilliams attached it to it but there’s no response from Dave. Other examples of a single comment but no reply are here, here, and here.

Looking at the League’s website at the top level where the reports (blog posts) are visible, it’s not evident that there’s A) commentary happening; or B) discussion happening. When viewing the same content with the blog view, one has to look very carefully after each post summary to see if there are comments (e.g., "View comments (1)"). It would help to have a Recent Comments widget in the sidebar of the site to make the discussions more obvious. It would also help to have 1) an RSS feed for the comments; and 2) permalinks for each comment.

My techie quibbles are minor, though.  Again, I’m happy to see the opinions by Observers and will be paying more close attention to them from now on.