The Nuts and Bolts of Local Government
A Window on the Workings
Much of what we learn about the workings of local government we get by reading “the daily newspaper” or watching local television. For Spokanites the only full daily paper is the Spokesman Review. What news one receives through these media is necessarily second hand. The topics deemed worthy of coverage acquire a slant, intended or not, that is determined by the reporters and the management of the medium.
In addition, like many local newspapers, the Spokesman lives behind a paywall. If you don’t spend (or cannot afford) the money to subscribe, you are only allowed so many articles per month. (It is worth noting that the Inlander, the other local newspaper, is free to the reader both online and in its weekly paper form. It is a valuable resource that is worth reading, but the Inlander has its own filter—and it does not attempt to provide comprehensive coverage.)
RANGE Media, a recent addition to local news coverage, is a valuable local news resource that can be accessed free online, with new articles distributed by email. Consider signing up as a paid subscriber. Of course, it, too has a slant.
So what’s a citizen to do? The City of Spokane’s website, my.spokanecity.org, is a great resource, but digging out specific information about the workings of government can be very challenging. (The Spokane County website’s [spokanecounty.org] coverage of County government workings, by contrast, is far worse than the City’s, something we can hope might improve with the election of Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan as County Commissioners.)
The Official Gazette of the City of Spokane, Washington
A friend of mine and long time city employee recently introduced me to a resource I wish I had been aware of years ago, The Official Gazette of the City of Spokane, Washington. The Gazette is a free online weekly compendium of the workings of City government that is not subject to the filters of reporters and opinion writers. You can sign up to receive the electronic version of the Gazette by sending an email to City Clerk Terri Pfister at firstname.lastname@example.org asking to be added to the email distribution. The Official Gazette has been around since the 1960s. It seems like it is gradually (and reluctantly) emerging into the modern world, as illustrated by some marvelous anachronisms. For instance, the front page informs the reader of the annual subscription cost ($4.75) for the print version to be sent to recipients with addresses in Spokane County, even though the Gazette no longer appears in a print version.
The Gazette is not easy reading, but it provides a valuable front row seat to the workings of City Government. Last week’s November 16 Gazette is nineteen pages of detailed City Council meeting minutes (in this case those of the Monday, October 24th City Council meeting), six pages of Hearing Notices (starting on page 1217), eight pages of City Council passed legislation (“ordinances”) awaiting the Mayor’s signature (or veto), five pages of “Job Opportunities”, and “Notices for Bids”. This is dry reading, but looking it over gives the reader a good idea what the City Council Members we elect actually spend their time doing—beyond what’s offered in the papers and online media.
The Gazette is free for the asking in its electronic version. The cost of gathering its contents is paid for by your tax dollars. Make use of it.
[Reading Tip: If your browser works like mine (assuming your reading on a computer, not a smart phone) hitting CMD(command)-F opens a search window in a pdf document. Using that one can quickly navigate to a page number or any key word. No one will read every word of the Gazette. CMD-F is means of skimming. Use it.]
Keep to the high ground,
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