By Michael Howell
Keeping an eye on local government activities can be difficult for the average working person. Maggie Wright and Lee Tickell, of Hamilton, have a vision of how modern digital technology and the internet can be a valuable tool in enabling the public by informing them and perhaps even allowing them to participate in local politics electronically from their home, office, hotel room or automobile. Not willing to wait while the county takes its first halting steps into the digital age, the couple has taken the initiative and started their own web site called the Ravalli County Watchdog Site.
The site features unedited audio/video recordings of many of the meetings conducted by the Ravalli County Commissioners. The key word here is “unedited.” The site’s goal is to provide an unbiased and unedited resource for the public to use when it desires more details about what has been reported on in the local newspapers or been picked up by word on the street. The rule, strictly adhered to, is that you will only find completely unedited records of meetings on the Ravalli County Watchdog Site. The videos may, however, be broken up into 15 minute sections, to fit within the limits imposed for publishing on YouTube.
As the non-profit organization’s mission statement puts it:
“We don’t care if a government official has an R, a D, or any other letter of the alphabet after their name… RC Watchdog is dedicated to helping Ravalli County citizens ensure that their government is being run in an open, honest and civil manner and that the interests of the citizens are placed above all else.”
“Our aim is to offer a view of our government in action in way that is as unfiltered as possible,” said Wright, “and let the public draw its own conclusions.”
Tickell said that a good unedited video recording fills a vacuum in the current system.
“The way the minutes are constructed there is no evidence of the commissioners’ reasoning,” said Tickell. But people generally want to know more than what decision was made. They want to know how the commission arrived at its decision. Tickell said that a good unedited video was the best way for the public to find an answer to that kind of question.
Besides complete recordings of some of the commissioners’ most important meetings, the web site also offers views of many public documents that are also of interest to the general public. Right now a person can find video recordings on the site that include meetings on airport expansion, FlatIron Subdivision, public comments on wolves, Title X funding, and more. Documents may be viewed concerning the Robak lawsuit, county policies and procedures, noxious weed policies and much more.
Tickell and Wright are a very dedicated couple. They both put in a lot of time at public meetings, dutifully watching over their video recorder, silently relishing the fact that the public process is being recorded for posterity and will soon be made available to any interested citizen who has access to the internet.
Wright said that the web site had taken on a life of its own and was already becoming a community resource. She said that Ravalli County Watchdog Site does accept video contributions from the public.
“If it’s unedited, we will post it,” she said.
Tickell said that two of his life-long loves were intertwined for him in his work on the web site. One was a love and fascination with government and the dynamics of the public process. The other was a long career with Microsoft and his involvement with the latest in communications technology.
Tickell said that it was important now for the local government to integrate the most advanced technology available to improve public access and public participation. He said they were currently in the process of forming a 501(c)(3) non-profit company to run the web site.
In the meantime, if you weren’t able to attend an important meeting of the County Commissioners and you want to see and hear every last detail of what was said by each commissioner and be every member of the public, try looking on the internet at www.rcwatchdog.org. You might find what you are looking for at the stroke of a key.