A council watchdog barks

Published 9:29 pm Monday, June 24, 2013

Nearly every city has its gadfly — someone who seems to make it his or her personal mission in life to bedevil and bemuse the folks at City Hall. Whether standing before elected officials during a City Council meeting to rail against the issue of the day, making regular visits to City Hall to rattle some cage or another or filing Freedom of Information requests to get the data they need to expose some perceived slight or impropriety — the self-appointed watchdogs of local government sometimes seem to be barking all the time.

For the most part, such self-appointed watchdogs have a lot in common with the media, and journalists often love to see them step up to the podium during public meetings, knowing the gadflies often provide juicy quotes for their stories, while sometimes provoking public officials into revealing responses.

For many years, the late Sam Callis served that role in Suffolk, appearing before City Council countless times to speak his heart and mind about what was happening in the city. More recently, Chris Dove has become one of the main citizen watchdogs keeping his eyes on the actions taken by Suffolk’s elected leaders and their appointed representatives in city administration. While he may not have the style or the following that Callis developed during his years calling City Council to task, Dove does have one thing he can claim: success.

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Dove stood before council last week to complain that he and others in his Westhaven Lakes neighborhood had not been included in the right election borough. He wondered whether the lines of other voting precincts in Suffolk, which had been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, had been changed as well and speculated that there might be some nefarious purpose afoot.

Dove takes his unofficial position as a watchdog very seriously, so he’d been paying close attention and found the inconsistency when the voting location that appeared on his voter registration card turned out to be different than what it should have been based on his knowledge of Suffolk’s recent redistricting.

Because he noticed and then said something in a public meeting about what he’d uncovered, Dove exposed what city officials said was a simple mistake affecting about 15 households. The error did not affect any elections, because there have been no borough-level races since the redistricting took place. It will be corrected, and officials will send out corrected voter registration cards soon.

It’s easy to get irritated when the dogs start barking. But when they alert you to an intruder, you’re glad to have them there.