We all know local government keeps public schools open, puts out fires, arrests bad guys and picks up garbage. But many of us often see it as vast and unapproachable.
The truth is, government is us; it's our way of making sure - or at least trying to make sure - that our community not only keeps running and keeps growing but also keeps improving.
We elect local leaders, but we still must be an integral part of government, not just people standing on the sidelines, simply observing. We need to watch our government, discuss its successes and failures, and let our elected leaders know what we think, what we want.
The Times Free Press seeks to accomplish that task every day, and as a result, the newspaper's website now contains a wealth of information about county and city government - stories, photos, budgets and other documents. But we know that information sometimes gets lost in the mix of other news and photos.
To make it easier for our readers, we're launching Chattagov.com, a collection of top stories and latest news on the City of Chattanooga, Hamilton County government and Hamilton County Schools. We want Chattagov to be an easy, one-stop for all the Times Free Press' local government news. You can go there for background or breaking news on a hot issue.
In other words, it's a place for you to participate in local government, to have your voice heard, to be involved.
On Chattagov, you'll be able to find:
• Stories categorized by issue - sewer problems, the STEM school, the mayoral recall effort.
• Stories organized by the agency - city, county or schools. Click on the county section, for example, for latest stories on the legal fight over prayer before commission meetings.
• Documents that support stories, such as budgets, court filings and audits.
• A Who's Who section with information about local elected officials. Find their addresses, emails, phone numbers and read a brief description of their background, career and education.
• A Chattagov Twitter feed (use the hashtag #chattagov to contribute).
• Election coverage: read up on all our coverage of county, school and judicial races. On Election Day, look for live coverage and analysis all day. After the results are in, look for precinct-by-precinct results.
• Newsfeed: This is where you'll find tidbits, breaking news, political endorsements, live meeting coverage and context - basically anything going on that day. We'll update this section daily with news, events and happenings.
• A calendar listing everything from PTA meetings to important commission, council and school board meetings, as well as big political rallies and events.
Chattagov is the brainchild of three Times Free Press reporters - Ansley Haman, who covers Hamilton County government, Cliff Hightower, who covers the City of Chattanooga, and Kevin Hardy, who covers K-12 education - who want to make sure the content they and other reporters generate is easily accessible to people who follow government.
So, let us know when your upcoming PTA is meeting, if your candidate just received an endorsement, or if your civic or political group plans to discuss a key issue. We'll post it quickly. And let us know if you've got a news tip on one of these beats or a suggestion on something you'd like to see covered. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ultimately, Chattagov - like the government it covers - is yours.
Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at email@example.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfree press.com.