By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
COLUMBUS — This past Saturday I participated in a full day of training on how to be a good watchdog of your government and how to hold elected officials accountable.
The sessions were sponsored by The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and the Ohio Chapter of Americans For Prosperity. There were about 100 people participating throughout the day.
Here are some of the key things we learned:
- The reputation of the main stream media is declining; traditional news sources have declining audiences and budgets. This is a wonderful opportunity for citizens to fill the void.
- From Todd Shepherd, Independence Institute: Investigative reporting isn’t that hard – sometimes it’s just a matter of having a question and finding an answer. Random public records requests often reveal major stories.
- From Greg Lawson, Buckeye Institute: We have a high rate of local taxation in Ohio; on average, there are more than 41 taxing authorities per county; the average Ohio home has an ‘eye-popping’ 25 levies on it; our schools are in dire fiscal shape. Lucas County is 5th in projected deficits with a whopping $399 million projected for all schools in the county. Only Hamilton, Summit, Franklin and Cuyahoga (1st in projected deficits in the state) are worse.
- Also from Lawson: Buckeye Institute has a wealth of terrific information and policy papers on their website and is a good resource when local communities want to implement bad policy.
- From James O’Keefe, Project Veritas: exposing the lies isn’t very hard because no one else is actually doing it; legalities are important and video is a good way to tell a story, especially when what you’re showing is the truth and not something you’ve added your opinion to. Often, the best negative exposure is to let people say what they want and then share it. There’s no defense when they stick their foot in their mouth.
- From Jason Hart, MediaTrackers.org: using video to tell a story is easier than I thought; numerous online tools let you capture key comments in YouTube videos or edit your own into manageable clips for sharing with others.
- From Chris Finney, Citizens Against Spending and Taxation (COAST): Using the law against officials who are doing something wrong is easier than expected. If a school system sends out pro-levy literature in student packets or puts pro-levy signs on their property, just ask for equal opportunity to send out or post your anti-levy lit and signs. When they say no, sue them for equal access. You might not be able to prevent them from taking advantage of students by pushing pro-levy positions, but you can insist on equal time for the opposing view.
- From Maurice Thompson, 1851 Center for Constitutional Law: When your constitutional rights are being violated, there’s no greater friend than the 1851 Center. Their work on the Healthcare Freedom Amendment, the Workplace Freedom Amendment and school tax issues is vital to ensuring that government does not abuse its citizens and their rights.
- From Tabitha Hale, Franklin Center: Social media is a powerful tool in building public pressure urging elected officials to do the right thing. While Twitter and Facebook may seem similar, they have different audiences and it takes both to effectively engage others in the fight for accountability.
- From the education panel – Holding Your Local School District Accountable: I’ve already used what I heard from this panel when I decided to call for a performance audit of Toledo Public Schools before we vote to give them a new, permanent 6.9 mill levy. Also, understanding the school fiscal reports and audits is critical; the five-year budget forecast and Cupp Report are important tools in asking the right questions of your school board.
- From the other attendees: There is considerable interest and enthusiasm for actively participating in our local governments and holding our elected officials accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.
- Being a watchdog is easier than you think.