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New Jersey watchdog John Day rang in 2014 with an investigation into his township’s red light camera program and their unsettling issuance of tickets. Through filing an Open Public Records Act, John found the program was poised to issue more tickets than his township’s total population of 56,000, projected to bring in more than $5 million in fines by the end of March. From his exposé, he was able to inform the public and garner enough support to hold a protest.
As this month’s Citizen Spotlight, Watchdog Wire asked John some questions about his personal experience as a citizen watchdog:
What motivates you to be a citizen watchdog? It’s not easy and you don’t get paid, so what keeps you going?|
First and foremost, I see my contributions to Citizen Watchdog as an act of public service. There can be no interest or action locally, if there is not, first, an awareness of what’s transpiring. A strong, second motivation is to foster accountability by those who are entrusted with the public’s trust and funds. A third motivation is to continually practice the art of writing, which isn’t called upon very much in the business day and age of PowerPoint bullets and 140-character tweets.
How did you first get started as a citizen watchdog?
Attending a public policy / grassroots-journalism forum a couple years ago, and listening to representatives from the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity and Watchdog Wire speak about the organization’s mission and accomplishments.
What issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
(1) Public fraud and corruption – because it is a betrayal of the public trust, and casts a long shadow over public institutions that are serving individuals legitimately in need of assistance, e.g. elderly, disabled.
(2) Government transparency – because without it, cronyism and abuse of power shall run rampant
How did you feel after doing your exposé on your township’s red light camera program? What kind of response did you get? Are you taken more seriously?
I felt like I had performed a public service, as the citation data I reported had not been previously widely known. The response was a combination of overwhelmingly positive and aghast, and has established a higher visibility of the issue locally and statewide.
What has your experience been with the mainstream media? What advice do you have for them to better serve their audience?
I really haven’t had much direct experience with the mainstream media – nor, candidly, do I much care to experience it. I’m not seeking my name in the media, so I don’t actively pursue it. My advice to the media would be to not view citizen journalists a threat or competition, but rather an augmentation to their mission, especially in light of their own organization financials not allowing for news coverage locally.
Who is your favorite Founding Father?
How has Watchdog Wire helped you as a citizen watchdog?
I’ve learned about the various research tools that are available to ascertain information. I’ve come to appreciate the motivation and support of the larger team.
What can we do better? How can Watchdog Wire improve to help more citizens become watchdogs?
Reassure writers that there is a support team behind the organization that can step in and help during periods of competing priorities and/or an abundance of information to be reported in a short-period of time. I’ve have recently benefited from that, and am most appreciative.
What advice do you have for others who want to get involved?
If you can write, and have a passion about an issue, nothing is in your way to make a positive difference. Less than 1% of what is going on in local government is reported, and its a civic obligation for the preservation and vibrancy of the Republic to reverse that trend.
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