Covering the County
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Of course a reporter can always catch a supervisor in the hall afterwards and get the party line. & But the fun of covering government is the cut and thrust of public testimony -- and the tussle when decision makers disagree with each other!
For example, a recent vote on whether to pay workers compensation for local volunteer firefighters passed without a word of comment. No one came to tell the supervisors that such a gesture is insignificant in the face of the enormous lack of resources devoted to fire fighting in this county.
(San Diego spends $8.5 million a year on firefighting resources. Orange County , with a similar population and a lot less land, spends $250 million. The way fire protection is organized in the two counties is different. San Diego supervisors, who slipped out of the fire protection business in the 1970s, take less responsibility than any other large populated county in California.)
If no one shows up to comment at supervisors' meetings, there is little to report from the meetings! Not like the city of San Diego, where the council business is sometimes held up for more than an hour with non-agenda public comment. Some of it is out in left field, but much of it points to significant issues that wouldn't be raised in public anywhere else.
Of course there is more to covering the county than just going to their board meetings. But as someone who covers several different government agencies, it is remarkable to me how little public dialogue ends up happening in the county chambers. Is it really because everyone is happy with the job they are doing?
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