(Crystal A. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News Wire, 9/8/2011)
The residents behind a new “Ferndale Watchdog” group face several challenges as they work towards figuring out their mission, organizational structure and how to recruit new members. Though the group has not yet settled on a specific mission, their website says “We have formed into a citywide group of citizens watchdogs to keep an eye on local government and its tendencies to overtax and overspend.”
Challenge #1 – Raising Interest.
The first meeting was held on Aug. 16, 2011. Twenty people attended and discussed various complaints about the city, primarily financial. When they met again on Sept. 6, only four came out to get involved. The meeting was also attended by two reporters and two resident business owners who wanted to learn more, but declined joining the group.
Fliers were distributed door-to-door and information about meetings has been posted on Facebook. The next one is expected to be Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 from 7-8pm at Woodward Heights Commerce Center at 701 Woodward Heights.
“We need to keep people interested, and we need to keep politics out of this,” said Board Member Mary Kay Fredricks. “We’re all residents of Ferndale and we should be able to work together. …It shouldn’t be intimidating, just like talking to your neighbors over a fence.”
Getting active residents is one of Watchdog’s priorities. Fredricks said they plan on coming up with some sort of logo and making buttons or shirts that members can wear to City Council meetings. They also plan on putting together a community calendar to distribute at meetings, and to continue trying to recruit by distributing fliers door to door. Their goal of “more accountability” will be accomplished by teaching residents to ask questions of Council, and coming up with tips for how to deal with the City.
Challenge #2 – Previous Ties
While the group says it intends to be non-political and open to all viewpoints, the stigma of members’ previous political activities presents an image problem to the fledgling group.
The board is made up of Sean House, Debbie Newton, Bob Grix, Brian Donnovan and Mary Kay Fredericks. House and Fredericks were active in the FACT Campaign [Ferndale Against Councils Tax] in the most recent milage increase election. House runs the Watchdog website, which is the same one used for FACT campaign. Member Sherry Wells is currently running for City Council after a months-long battle with the city over the noise ordinance, contending that businesses should have more stringent noise restrictions.
“There was a misrepresentation out there that we were like ‘Rahhh,’ and only care about not raising taxes. But it doesn’t matter if you voted for or against the tax. That is in the past,” said Board Member Newton. Newton’s problem is not so much the tax issue as the changing ambiance of the community. “Ferndale used to be what you called a bedroom community. It wasn’t all about entertainment. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, but we need to find a way to live together.”
Another complaint brought up at the meeting was that of rats in the city, though most of the discussion was about taxes and fiscal responsibility. Resident and business owner Phoenix Smith questioned how the group would deal with the perception that Watchdogs is an extension of the anti-tax group, and members insisted that they are going for a fresh start.
Challenge #3 – Focus
Each person at the meeting had slightly different concerns and visions about how the group should work and what it should accomplish.
Fredericks said that a mission and plan for how to run meetings would need to be fleshed out by the Board Members at another meeting. “This is all still new,” she said. “We need to figure out how this all will work before we’re really able to put it out there.”
She said that they do not plan on registering as a political campaign, or doing any kind of advocacy or fundraising, only acting as a “support group” for residents.
One rule that the group is determined to keep is that meetings do not go longer than one hour. “We don’t want to waste anybody’s time,” Fredericks said. “If people want to get into deeper discussions they can go off on their own after the meetings.”
Despite the challenges, the group is determined to continue meeting and growing. “There is strength in numbers, ” Newton said. “and we can work together.”
“Once the Board has a chance to have their meeting we will know more about how this will work. It’s a new kind of group and we’ve never done anything like this before. There are still bugs to work out,” Fredericks said. In the meantime, those who want more information can contact Ferndale Watchdogs at FCWWatchdogs@gmail.com.