OPINION COLUMNS

Keep public notices public

By Messenger Staff | Published Saturday, December 1, 2012

Every time the Texas Legislature gears up for a session (the next one starts Jan. 8, 2013) Texas newspapers gear up for a fight over public notices.

That’s because lobbyists – funded by your tax dollars – typically launch a barrage of bills to take public notices out of newspapers. Under the guise of saving money, they’ll propose that cities, counties, school districts and other entities just put bid announcements and other notices on their websites.

It sounds good, and as taxpayers ourselves, we want those entities to save money.

But when you look into the details, it’s a bad idea.

Publishing public notices is not simply about getting information to vendors – it’s about informing the public concerning government expenditures, taxation, environmental issues and public meetings. It enables citizens to keep watch on their government. Believe it or not, that’s not just our job, it’s everyone’s job.

Government and corporate projects impact the environment, the air we breathe, our water supply, and the kind of world we will leave to our children. The more eyes on what they do, the better off we are.

Remember, not everyone has access to the Internet. In fact, minorities, the disabled, the elderly and those in rural communities all have statistically lower Internet access. Those are the people who would be prevented from seeing public notices if they were all moved exclusively to the Internet. And government websites often throw up roadblocks like registration, limited downloads, software incompatibility issues and disclaimers for the content they provide.

You shouldn’t have to have the latest software and a lot of expertise to find out what your government is doing.

None of the proposals to move public notice to websites have included details about standards for placement, archive requirements or a plan to provide independent verification. Newspapers (including this one) maintain extensive archives and can get you a copy of any public notice we’ve ever published. We can also supply an affadavit showing that it was published, and telling you when.

And the argument that it saves money does not hold up. Publishing public notices in newspapers is affordable and efficient, a tiny fraction of local governments’ budgets – and a small price to pay for transparency.

Wise County has 30 entities that levy a property tax. That includes the county, 13 school districts, 11 cities, a water authority and emergency services, junior college, water control and improvement and water supply districts. All are required by law to publish a variety of notices in a newspaper of general circulation in their service area during the course of a year.

If you want to make sure you can still find out what they’re doing from public notices in the newspaper, let your state representative and state senator know.

And if cities and school districts are worried about the expense, we’d suggest they cut back on their dues to Texas Municipal League or Texas Association of School Boards – the organizations that use your tax money, every two years, to try and limit what you can find out about what they’re doing.

One Response to “Keep public notices public”

  1. Mark Moskow says:

    The Texas Municipal League and Texas Association of School Boards are trying to use our money responsibly. Speaking of lobbying, no fewer than 10 news papers in Texas have run editorials, using precious editorials to lobby for their own industry to keep the laws mandating that local governments overpay for notices in print. When the free market works people do what is efficient: Classified ads have moved online out of print. Why? Not just to save money, but because all of the businesses that used to use print realize it is more effective (not cheap) to advertise online. How about listening to the people: in the last three public referenda to move notices online, they have passed overwhelmingly. Here’s a compromise: it is agreed that the the governments themselves should not be posting their own notices. Let the local governments choose between local newspapers and the increasingly popular online news sites. Those news sites need to be independently owned, they need to have been in business for over 1 year. They need to have more than 50% original content. They need to devote their news to local affairs (like the newspapers). Nationally we are wasting over $1billion per year in posting notices online.

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