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Dennis Morris to hold Precinct Meeting

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Shenandoah County Supervisor Dennis Morris (R-Dist. 5) will be holding a precinct meeting on Thursday, January 26th at the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department. The Fire Hall is located at 3342 South Main Street in Toms Brook. (Map and directions here) District Five consists of Toms Brook, Lebanon Church, and Cedar Creek precincts.

The meeting appears to be primarily for the purposes of discussing the state of County EMS and Fire Services, as Gary Yew, the county’s Fire Chief, will be speaking. Refreshments will be served. For more information, you can call (540) 436-9149.

 

Introducing Shenandoah Sunshine

May 16, 2011 1 comment

UPDATE: I noticed that a number of people are landing here when searching for Shenandoah Sunshine. At the time of this post the blog wasn’t up, so no link. Of course, the blog is now rolling, and you may find it here.

During my time at the University of Virginia, I first became interested in the art of blogging. At the time, blogging was just getting established as a media platform. There’s not much to it, really–essentially, a blog is really just a website that is updated very frequently, with the newest material presented first on the front page. They’re really not all that different from the earliest websites around–in fact, some of the earliest blogs came online around 1994. What really put blogging on the map was a change in accessibility and tone.

These two changes occurred around the same time. Previously, maintaining a blog required a modicum of web design and maintenance skills, depending on what you were trying to accomplish. During the late 90s and early 00s, however, enterprising web gurus develop software and services that allowed pretty much anyone with the most basic of word processing and web surfing skills (i.e. click here to publish) to start a blog. Additionally, they even offered to host it for you, meaning there was no investment other than time. It was on par with other developments in publishing: first came hand written texts, which was limited to those with the ability and time to expend in copying them. Then there was the printing press, which suddenly made republication even easier, but still that was limited to those who could afford a press (or those who could convince there was money to be made by the owners in selling their work). Then came mechanization, Xerox, and then finally, blogging–pretty much anyone can be read by others now (though you still have to get people interested). Understandably, each of these methods was taken advantage of by those with political interests, in spreading a message about government and politics. Blogging is no exception.

Certainly there were political bloggers before 2002, but it was in that year that a blogger played a key role in forcing then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) to step down following remarks that he made regarding how the nation would have been better off had it elected then Southern Democrat Strom Thurmond during his explicitly segregationist presidential campaign in 1948. Media had been present at the event the comments were made at, but they went unreported. It was this new intrepid group of bloggers, who both had a motive but could also find an audience within the media that shamed them into making a bigger deal of the store, that kicked off a major change in the Senate’s leadership. Blogs further came of age when a group of right leaning bloggers cast light on CBS’s Dan Rather’s reporting on documents that put President Bush’s National Guard service in a dim light. Those documents were proved through blogger’s efforts to be forgeries. The controversy ultimately ended with Dan Rather stepping down from his post as anchor of CBS’s Evening News after 24 years. The message of these incidents was clear: a new generation of reporters and analysts was emerging thanks to the rise of a new form of media with very little cost to entry (both in terms of experience and monetary resources) and access that even TV and newspapers could be jealous of. More importantly, the media, even if they claimed to loathe the competition, was paying attention, and now, they were not the only ones who would decide what stories mattered.

What was there that DIDN’T appeal about blogging to a young political activist with an interest in writing, the internet, and well, making a difference/stirring up trouble (depending on your opinion of my efforts)? I started primarily writing about state politics and blogged off and on about it under both my name and pseudonyms through 2006. During my bout with cancer, I also used blogging as an outlet, though for a much more personal reason. In 2008 and 2009, my interests changed, and I ran first a blog for the Shenandoah County Republican Committee and this humble blog right here.

These efforts were meant to bring a blogging presence to Shenandoah County, but they largely failed for a number of reasons. For one, I just didn’t promote them right. Two, I never quite delivered on my promise of providing news and commentary for the County. Commentary, yeah, commentary that I frankly got some grief for. But this commentary never developed a following outside of a very small political class, and the news just wasn’t there. I wasn’t aggressive enough in either pursuing stories or just plain providing coverage. The opinion I did offer, and that seemed to draw more attention, was on state and national issues.

Still, for reasons I’ll get into below, I continue to see a real need for a new media resource for Shenandoah County and for political and public affairs coverage in the locality. My professional and personal position has changed over the last few months, and after continuing to play with the idea, I’ve finally decided to stop complaining and deliver.

It is with that background that I announce a new project of mine: The Shenandoah Sunshine Project. What is Shenandoah Sunshine? This project is intended to create a free, citizen powered resource for political and government news driven by the power of new media (including blogging, video and social networking). That, however, sounds supisciously like a simple pitch for advertisers, or a (albeit long) Twitter post. So, in that grand jouralistic tradition, I present the who, what, when, where, why and how of Shenandoah Sunshine.

So who are we? Well, for right now, you’re reading his words. Yes, at the present time, Shenandoah Sunshine is a one man band. However, because of the unique platform of new media, we hope that to be relatively short lived. We want to get other citizens involved in reporting on local politics and government. Even if you don’t have the time or interest in lugging a camera (or even pad and pen) to a local government meeting, we still want to hear what you’re interested in. Every platform we use will include some way for you to interact with us and provide us with tips, suggestions, and story ideas. Beyond that, we also hope to be a platform not only for reporting but for commentary and analysis as well–left, right, center, progressive, conservative, we want to hear from you, and provide you with a platform beyond the limitations of the letters to the editor section of the local papers in which to do it. For my part, I plan on restricting myself to a reporting role, covering meetings and reporting just the facts. If I step beyond that to offer opinion, I’ll be clear to label it as such, but I hope to control myself in that regard. But if my reporting appears to be biased, I certainly want to know that as well.

And just what are we going to provide? Well, think of us as CSPAN for Shenandoah County. We’re going to provide news and analysis about Shenandoah County Government and Politics across various social media platforms (video, twitter, facebook). Again, we are strictly limiting ourselves to just government and politics in Shenandoah County. If you’re looking for box scores, the line-up of acts for the Shenandoah County Fair, or what happened at the Relay for Life, sorry, we won’t have it–that’s not what we’re about. We are purposely focusing on the realm of public affairs within a limited geographic area. In short, we hope to be the C-SPAN of Shenandoah County. We want to provide citizens with a front row seat to government and politics in action. We will provide reporting and yes, film of town council and Board of Supervisor meetings and political events. Even CSPAN could be accused of being biased to a certain degree–even a camera angle or selection could be considered a form of bias–but we feel by providing the source material in a way others haven’t, we will be able to provide both a more comprehensive and less biased form of coverage than has ever been attempted in Shenandoah County.

When are we kicking this off? Well, that’s a bit trickier. In a sense, it starts today with the announcement. We want to hear your feedback starting now. What do you want to hear about? Where do you want us to be? Think we’re full of crap and aren’t needed at all and we should be ashamed of ourselves for even suggesting this project? Let us know….even if that won’t call us off. Again, this is all about getting citizens involved in the process, and that includes us, the media. Yet, today, we aren’t launching any stories. We’ve reserved a spot on the major platforms we’ll be using (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress), but content will roll out slowly, because, right now, we haven’t started the heart of the project. That will come soon, though. Our first target: redistricting in Shenandoah County. Look for stories and information beginning tomorrow, and full coverage of next week’s public hearing on the issue before the Board of Supervisors.

Where will we be? This is not a traditional media project. Again, we have a narrow focus, and a different platform. We conciously will not have a traditional press outlet, for several reasons. One, for the kind of coverage we’re providing, we just don’t think that our model is an economically viable one. Other projects that have had a larger community focus have folded–there’s been multiple new printed outlets through the last decade that have come and gone. We just don’t have the financial resources to try, and we don’t think its worth it. Beyond that, we think the present outlets do a good job as printed resources for the community writ large, and we don’t see competing wtih them. More to the point, we hope to do something a little different here. As we’ll outline below, we see a gap in local government and political coverage, and I feel that, frankly, county politics is not taken a s seriously as it could be. To try and change this, I hope to go to where the dialogue is–social media. If the announcement of a public official’s child being born or their engagement can draw people’s attention, why can’t coverage of important issues do so as well? I have a hunch that its because nobody’s tried hard enough, and I want to give it a whirl. It might work, it might not–but it won’t be known until its tried.

So that leads us to another question–just why am I doing this? Well, for starters, I think that, quite frankly, there’s just not enough engagement regarding politics in Shenandoah County. Too often we’ll see public hearings regarding property taxes or school spending packed to the gills, but then at the very next meeting there will be one or two people. Same thing with letters to the editor–there will be a deluge when there’s big issues at hand, but then nothing for weeks or months. Should we just live with this? After all, those are important issues–why not let people live their lives the rest of the year? Well, there’s something to that argument–but the problem with that logic is that these issues often become problems only because of decisions that were made in the past, when people weren’t really paying attention. We don’t blame the citizens directly–people often just don’t have options to hear about this stuff. But we think it matters. Too often, as a political office, I’d ask people about who they were planning to vote for in local elections and I’d get the answer, “sorry, I only vote in presidential elections, the only one that matters.” The problem there is that the vast majority of government operations that affect us in our daily lives, from police protection to public schools to, yes, even turning on the water to brush your teeth in the morning, are the function of local government. It might not be the sexiest or most compelling part of politics, but local politics matters. Right now, I just don’t feel that the local media outlets do as good a job as they good. The Hearld, despite being just focused on the county, has unfortunately curtailed in-depth coverage. The Free Press, while far more in depth, has a clear agenda, and the lines between reporting and opinion are far too often blurred in their coverage. The Northern Virginia Daily does good coverage on occasion, bu they cover Winchester and Front Royal as well and therefore have to manage their reporting and don’t get to cover every meeting as they should. We also don’t think that government itself does as good a job as it should. We want to change that. There may be some that see us “attacking the powers that be” on that front, but we don’t see this as an agenda driven effort. If we have any agenda, its on the side of government transparency and civic engagement. That’s all we care about–we hope to be a platform for political discussion, but before we do that, we want to get people talking through unprecedented political coverage.

To expand on that just for a moment–we realize that we may not have a readership that is a cross section of Shenandoah County at first. Likely, our first readers will probably be those already deeply invested in the political process to begin with. That’s ok–that’s why we’re focusing on social media. We want to start a dialogue, and we feel the quickest way to do that is to give people an easy way to disseminate information regarding local government. Again, it may work, it may not–maybe people really just don’t care, and information on redistricting will never be as popular as baby photos. Someone needs to try, though, and it might as well be the nerd who awaits census data more than word of a classmate’s newborn…..I make no apologies on that front, but as I’ve always felt–somebody’s gotta be that guy in a successful society. It might as well be me.

So how are we going to pull this off? Social media is at the core of this project. A blog, twitter, YouTube and Facebook are at the center of this project. You will find us across all three platforms, and for right now, its going to be heavy lifting on my part. But I want this–I see a real need for this sort of coverage, and I feel compelled to try. There will be more coming across the next few days, and we encourage you to stay tuned. Above all, get involved: talk to us, let us know what you want to hear about, critique us. Because this project is ultimately about you, the citizens, and we believe that we can shine new light on the often confusing but always important nature of local government.

God bless this beautiful land we call the Shenandoah Valley, and god bless America.

Regards,
Craig L. Orndorff

Editor, Shenandoah Sunshine Project

Letting Freedom Ring

I’ve written quite a bit over the last few weeks about the recent Tea Party protests and their long term potential. I’m of the belief that in order to be most effective conservatives need to start at the very bottom levels of government organizing, then get their people elected, the same people who will carry the conservative mantle to higher levels of government. Well, it looks like we’re starting to see that, starting with, of all places, Rhode Island! From Granite Grok (H/T The Corner and Michelle Malkin):

Mere days after the largest nationwide anti-tax rallies the likes of which haven’t been seen since prior to the start of the American Revolution, the City Council of Woonsocket, RI (Yes, THAT RI, with a sales, income, AND property tax, basically the highest in the country…)¬†stood poised to¬†stick the taxpayers with a “supplemental” tax bill to fund a budget shortfall in it’s school department. Essentially, the property taxpayers– with commercial owners paying 2-1/2 times the rate– would be sent a so-called “5th Quarter” tax bill. Normally, taxes are billed and paid in quarterly payments in the year.

…..

The local paper, The Woonsocket Call described the events:

Harris Hall was so packed that admittance was closed after about 130 spectators filled the room. People were standing against the back walls because there weren’t any more seats left and there was a line of speakers behind the lectern waiting to address the council that snaked out into the foyer. More than two hours after the session began, people were still waiting for their turn to speak, and the council hadn’t even recited the Pledge of Allegiance to mark the formal start of the agenda.

…..

The expected 6 to 1 vote favoring a supplemental tax bill to be foisted up Woonsocket taxpayers turned into a stunning 4 to 3 midnight vote, DEFEATING it!

An incredible display of citizen activism and organization. Want to start the momentum here? Get involved and attend Shenandoah County’s budget hearing next Thursday, April 30 (time pending). Although currently real estate taxes are not slated to be increased. there is talking of an increase on the vehicle tax (which Superivsors claim due to declining asessments will be “revenue neutral,” words always to be suspicious of when it comes to taxes assesed by value), it is important to ask questions about where the money is going and where it’s coming from. To borrow two old cliches: Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and knowledge is power.