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Watching the Council: Debuts (News Analysis)

By Shirley Dean
Monday April 18, 2011 - 11:16:00 AM

Our town is wonderful, lovely and exciting. Issues always seem to pop up – issues that trigger vociferous debate that ranges from nasty - “Bezerkely is at it again” - to confused - “who can figure out what’s going on”- to hopeless - “ it doesn’t matter what’s going on, no one listens anyway.” Not long ago, businesswoman Jacqueline McCormick, school and community activist Sophie Hahn, neighborhood leader Dean Metzger and former Mayor Shirley Dean were grousing about how hard it can be to keep up with Council happenings, when we jointly concluded it was time to help make sense of the maze of confusing information. We set a goal to provide people with a way to obtain timely, objective information, facilitate communication with our elected representatives, and converse with and learn from other residents. To accomplish this, we launched a new website, Berkeley Council Watch (BCW) in early April, since that’s when Berkeley was incorporated 133 years ago. 

First, to maximize awareness of issues being considered and decisions that have been made, you can obtain information about upcoming meetings, hot topics under considerations and decisions that have been made and by whom. BCW provides a “one-stop shop” that links together all things city government related, from upcoming meeting agendas and their related underlying documents to press articles and commentaries. 

If you have ever used the City’s website to try and understand what is going on, you know the frustration of navigating through a maze of pages. It’s difficult and time-consuming to find the documents that have lead up to a particular Council agenda item. Minutes from previous meetings are not posted immediately following meetings and once they are, there is no detail. To find out what really happened, you must view the video – and who has 4+ hours for that? Berkeley Council Watch links all documents on a single topic together, so you can get everything with just one click! 

Second, Berkeley Council Watch provides a consistent outlet for voicing your opinion. Before every Council meeting, BCW gives you the opportunity to let your councilmember know how you feel about a specific issue via the site’s unbiased comments feature. All comments received through the site are consolidated and delivered to the City Clerk for distribution to each Councilmember the day before the meeting. All comments are distributed without filtering so long as name and Council District number are included. 

Third, Berkeley Council Watch offers residents a forum to converse with each other using a shared, easily accessible information base to communicate and learn from each other. 

The key to Berkeley Council Watch is the availability of objective information based on reports and videos that the City itself provides and balanced by the comments of identified community members and the press. Everyone involved with Berkeley Council Watch is committed to providing unbiased, open information and to delivering all registered opinions to city officials for inclusion in the public record. 

Berkeley Council Watch is an ambitious undertaking that requires continuing user input and feedback, so suggestions for improvements are most welcome. This is a site of the people, by the people, and for the people of Berkeley. Please visit us at and e-mail us at to let us know what you think, and we will answer.