How do you inform officials about your concerns?

Rob Taylor, a regular contributor to this blog, has asked an interesting question in a comment related to the governor’s plan to spend money on ecosystem projects.

Rob says:

I have been reviewing all these comments lately and I am curious to know how many of you have ever written a letter to correspond with our elected officials to voice your opinion regarding your inquiries and concerns. Also, which particular issue did you discuss and what was the answer you received?

That is an interesting question, one which I’d hope that everyone reading this blog could answer in some way. Outside of voting, have you ever tried to influence the direction of government? If so, how? By writing a letter? Making a phone call? Appearing at a public hearing? Talking to local officials or local legislators in person? Writing a letter to the editor?

What have you found to be the most effective way at getting the attention of government officials? Do you feel you were able to get your point across, or were you ignored? Do you tend to address only those officials who seem amenable to your viewpoints, or do you ever try to reach those who you know will disagree?

As a reporter, I’m often ethically prevented from personally trying to influence a politician or government official. I do have an example I will share later, but I don’t want this discussion to be about me.

I know that a number of Water Ways readers work for the government in some capacity. You may take a pseudonym if you wish, but I’d like to know if you feel constrained from addressing issues that are important to you or if you can find ways to speak freely outside your particular area of work.

Colleen Smidt was kind enough to answer Rob’s question and I’ll move her answer into the slot below.

By the way, if you have noticed that the number of Water Ways entries has fallen off lately, I would like you to know that I was on vacation between Christmas and New Years, and now I am working weekends through January. I’ve not fully adjusted to the weekend schedule, which takes time away from my covering environmental stories and also leaves me less time for blogging. I hope to pick up the pace soon.

7 thoughts on “How do you inform officials about your concerns?

  1. From Colleen Smidt:

    I have.

    In writing to Senator Kilmer in regards to NASCAR and Education Funding over the period of a couple of years.

    I prefer to do as much of my business in person that I can and have sought out scheduled opportunities to do so to the following individuals:

    Derek Kilmer
    Jan Angel
    Bob Oke – rest in peace

    Last week I publicly addressed the Bremerton City Council with my concerns about spending. Steven Gardner’s article with one of my quotes was published in the sun a couple of days ago here:

    http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/jan/07/city-purchases-old-westsound-bank-building-for/

    Also I have spoken before the Bremerton School Board numerous times over the past couple of years. I September I wrote a letter that I submitted to all of the school board directors at that time. The Sun received a copy of the letter as well and ran it as a My Turn here:

    http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2009/sep/26/my-turn-board-still-needs-lesson-in-listening/

    And just this past Thursday both before and after the Bremerton School Board meeting I had the opportunity to have a nice long one on one talk with Mayor Lent about a number of things in regards to Bremerton.

    But I do get your point Robert. I sincerely wish more individuals were involved like me. The good news, my participation is inspiring others. A very nice women approached me at the last school board meeting and told me she was there because of much of what I had posted on the blogs about education and more people getting involved. It was an inspiring moment.

    Read more: http://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways/2009/12/21/governor-budgets-10-million-for-ecosystems/comment-page-1/#comment-18082#ixzz0cEf8jUKI

  2. So inspiring, Colleen. Can’t say I am as inspiring as you…but I do believe in getting involved in issued that one considers important and valuable.

    I prefer spreading the word through social networking means (Twitter, FaceBook, Myspace) and Googling to gain information about a specific issue prior to contacting an official. After making sure I have the facts, I decide whether I want to contact the official through a non-profit group that represents the cause, or contact them directly. Generally, if it important enough and I go through the non-profit, a donation is involved. Otherwise, I will send my own letter to officials on local, state or federal levels. Or it may involve a boards, committees and groups assigned to causes I feel are important, in which case I would probably first contact them if I have questions.

    No level of involvement is too high or to low for me – from my homeowner’s association to international issues – if it impacts my life or the life of people, animals and the environment – all of which are important to me, I find a way to get involved.

    EDMUND BURKE:
    All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.
    PLATO:
    The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.
    JIMMY BUFFETT:
    Is it ignorance or apathy? Hey, I don’t know and I don’t care.

  3. Colleen,

    I read both articles and admire your courage in addressing The Bremerton City Council and appearing at the Bremerton School Board. Indeed, your efforts are to be emulated. I would appreciate it if you could pass on some information on how I could assist in these important endeavors as well. I would be interesting to find out more about educational funding and why it keeps being cut. I am learning more and more about this everyday but not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, as stated prior in Chris’ blog, most funding, if any, can not be diverted for other issues. For instance, the vast majority of the 42.8 million that will be spent on Environmental and salmon restoration projects came from FEDERAL funds provided by the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) and the state has no option but to use them for this intended purpose. Actually, I called the PCSRF directly and was told that Washington State was awarded 26.5 million dollars and the year prior they received approximately 23 million. This is in direct effort to help maintain an industry that is worth (roughly) 540 million dollars to Washington State alone, so personally I believe the expended funds are worth the investment. I am trying to find out if these profits, permits, or license fees contribute directly to education, or not, and will let you know my findings if interested.

    Groovyjoker,

    I like to go through non-profit groups as well. My favorite is the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which sends convenient emails on issues in which I can participate. They have a “take action” section on their website where you can read up on an issue and decide if you want to send a pre typed letter to your representative which makes it rather easy and efficient. If interested, follow this link: http://www.nrdc.org/action/.

    My experiences with political leaders have been mainly through written correspondence. I have written several letters to Congressman Jay Inslee on separate issues in which I have always received a reply, but not always from his personal desk of course. I was privileged to participate in a group phone conversation with him regarding his vote on the infamous 700 billion dollar bailout the night before he was to cast his vote. After explaining his thoughts on the matter, we were able to tell him our personal thoughts as well. He listened to each one of us and then tallied up the votes prior to ending the phone call. Personally, I was against the idea as a whole, as most people were, and expressed this to him. A couple of days later, I looked up the voting record via this link: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/rollcallvotes.html and read that he also voted no on the issue.

    Thanks for sharing and be well,
    Rob

  4. In answer to your question regarding those who work in government…

    I work on natural resource issues for a North Sound county. I feel very muzzled in being able to state my opinions on natural resource issues and many other issues. Because I follow these kinds of issues regularly I feel that I have an extensive array of information to provide yet it is difficult to try to clarify that I am stating an opinion as a private citizen versus always being associated with my role at the County. Even if I try to state that I am testifying or writing as an individual, we are a small enough area that everyone in government and on our County Council and also many active citizens certainly knows who I am, and there is always the possibility that my opinion is or becomes a County opinion or that I have exceeded my bounds in my County role.

    I even asked my Director if I could make a public comment on a permit issue that was being adjudicated regarding an issue that I felt was highly disruptive for the ecosystem and was told that I should not provide any public testimony.

    This is a new dynamic for me over the last few years in which I have been a County employee as I have always been one who has been actively involved and would regularly contact legislators at any level of government regarding issues. I still contact my representatives at the federal level but I am hesitant to do so at the local and state level due to my County role.

  5. When a legislative issue arises that impacts me positively or negatively or that is just plain dumb, I will write an e-mail and to, the state department, the state legislature or county entity that is involved or represents me.

    My experience is that I will get back a canned response in most cases or, as in the case when I challenged the junior representative from my legislative district over an erroneous statement she made, SILENCE.

    I think it is our duty to become informed and to become involved, however, when the conversation becomes a public discourse, I think it is important to quote facts and to be respectful otherwise the conversation deteriorates into a personal vendetta to discredit without basis or facts.

  6. Rob, you can reach me on the side at bremertoncommunity4kdis@live.com. This is the email address I use for all of my education advocacy. Please email me. I think we can both be a great help to each other when it comes to these two particular issues that are each our passion. Thanks!

  7. Skye, I have been in government on and off since 1991. For whatever this is worth, generally:

    1) On your own time
    2) Using your own materials
    and finally,
    3) Try and stay away from issues your agency represents – meaning, has specific statutory authority, proprietary or regulatory interest in – not just someone sitting on a committee…

    In this respect, I support your supervisor’s answer in asking you to not to provide testimony on an issue that was important to the county. Even on your time off, you still represent the county. However, there are issues that are important to you, I am sure, that the county is not involved in, and has no authority over (federal issues, for example). I suggest directing your energy and concerns there.

    That is what I have learned over the years. While you are a public servant, no matter where you go, you also pay taxes. The key is finding a balance in serving the public, and ensuring your own interests are served as well.

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