The League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham is launching a new program to train citizens to observe local government bodies and report impartially on their actions.
The launch of the new Greater Birmingham Observer Corps coincides with this year’s national Sunshine Week, March 12-18. The purpose of the corps is to push for transparency in local government actions, and Sunshine Week is designed to highlight open government and freedom of information at the local, state and federal levels.
“It’s important that the people have eyes and ears on government boards as this is where their tax money is spent,” said league President Jean W. Johnson. “They are conducting the people’s business and it’s the people’s business to know.”
The league has had a government observer program that involved members of the league, but this is the first time the program is being opened to non-members.
There are dozens of commissions, councils, boards, authorities and committees in the area that receive and spend tax money, Johnson said. State law gives citizens the right to attend meetings of government bodies and seek records of government actions.
“But it’s not easy for the average citizen to get this information,” Johnson said. “Although any citizen has the right to observe almost all government meetings, it is not practical.”
The first training session for volunteer observers will be Wednesday, and Johnson said about 22 people have signed up. In the session, people will be taught to objectively observe meetings and report, and to strictly follow a code of conduct that prohibits them from advocating for or opposing the actions of the government entity to which they are assigned.
Reports from league observers will be posted on the group’s website at http://observercorps.lwvgb.org.
For more information about the Greater Birmingham Observer Corps program, contact the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham at 583-5000 or visit http://www.lwvgb.org.
Sunshine week, held each March, is a national, non-partisan effort to highlight the role of open government and freedom of information at the local, state and federal levels. The week is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Gridiron Club and Foundation.
For information on events and participants in Sunshine Week, visit the society’s Sunshine Week page, follow @SunshineWeek on Twitter and Facebook, and check out these related stories and resources: