As the 2016 election season fades behind us, it is a good time to reflect on our government structures and their various functions. It is easy follow government at the federal and state levels by reading the news, but not so much where local government is concerned. In fact, people often cannot name or identify the very people who represent them at the city or county levels. This is unfortunate, as many visitors to the law library might be surprised at how close their visit brings them to their local governments in action. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and St. Paul City Counsel both conduct their public meetings in the Court House. People who come to the library and inquire about seeing a public trial might also consider sitting in on a commissioners meeting. (Minutes and ideotapes of these meetings are also available online.)
What is going on beyond the Court House? Starting at the top, you can go to USA.gov to find all divisions of the federal government, and learn exactly where to direct your questions or complaints. Websites like Common Cause can help you identify all of your elected officials at once, plus see their sponsorships and contributors. On the other end, what about the most local levels? To learn who your neighbors are and what they are concerned about, consider joining an online community such as Nextdoor. If you want to become more involved, you may also consider using some of your spare time to volunteer in the community. Ramsey County has a page just for you, with opportunities to serve on county advisory boards and committees. You may be just one person, but don’t underestimate your power to make a difference!