Hi Brittany. Great question. I’d love to give you my perspective, and hope you receive in the spirit intended even though I grew up in Ann Arbor :p. You likely already know of your council meetings. Typically the full council meets weekly. Throughout the month they typically have council committee meetings that focus on various sectors (parks, public safety, infrastructure). They typically post agendas within 72 hours of the meeting (per the Brown Act that dictates public meeting protocol), and those agendas typically have links to support documents. You can typically watch videos of past council meetings usually linked on the county or city website. You’ll see that public comments are typically one of the first orders of business. That’s when anyone can comment on anything related to the city. If commenting on agendized items those typically are heard at the time of the item being discussed. There’s a wide range of forks in the road relating to the above which I won’t address just yet.
Typically cities and counties have ‘(advisory) boards and commissions’ or similar. These are groups of citizens who have subject matter expertise in various topics. They are also used as an ear-on-the-street perspective and they give usually brief advice to the councilmembers or county supervisors or similar they serve. Such advisory board members are typically appointed by elected leaders and serve for 2-3 years. They usually meet regularly and focus on a wide range of related elements. In an ideal world, these advisory boards meet, push up actionable items or related education to the council committees. The council committees then may take the matter up and run with it in the full council. These meetings are also public meetings but, you usually have to dig a little to find them, find out who’s serving, where there are vacancies (read: which county/council districts need volunteers to step up), and what they’re working on.
In each of these engagement areas there are typically tons of opportunities for brigade members to learn how things work and who might be approached and become collaborators on projects. This is one way to do it, another is by going through the chain of command directly and not necessairly via public meetings.
In any case once you start digging in it’s a fascinating process, that can move a little slow or be a bit cumbersome - but, will be rewarding to the entire brigade once you understand it’s mechanisms.
Another factor is the fiscal year and budget process. Everything seems to revolve around that process so you’ll find rich plans, updates, and detail there. Once you understand the timing of the budget process (eg. councilmember priorities, department plans and goals, past metrics, procurement etc.) it helps understand the context of the issues discussed in all the meetings throughout the year.
There are likely lots of written elements in local blogs and media that help explain more about these things and more so search away and you’ll find tons.
Lastly, this stuff all applies to county and city government but, there are often other related entities like ‘association of governments’ e.g. a roundtable of reps from all the cities in your county who work on larger issues e.g. countywide transit, climate, public safety etc. They also have agendas, minutes, meetings, budgets etc. The beauty of connecting with them is you might find needs and projects that could address and affect all the cities in your county for example.
There’s likely more eloquent descriptions of all of the above and I encourage you to jump in. Columbus needs you!