Keep notices in print, maintain transparency
The Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) is once again pushing the state Legislature for the passage of a bill (HF1286/SF1152) that could essentially do away with the printing of public notices in local newspapers. This bill, they say, would allow local governments more flexibility, allowing them to post notices on their respective government websites instead of in newspapers if they so choose.
This legislation is a bad idea.
The printing of government’s notices in newspapers has been the law since 1789. If this proposed bill is passed, transparency will be lost, putting the government’s duty of informing the public into the government’s hands alone.
The purpose of public notice requirements is to inform the public of government actions — in places where the public is most likely to see it. This provides citizens with the information needed to make well-informed decisions.
In our rural area, where Internet access is limited, only posting notices on government websites will not provide the public with information regarding government actions in an easily accessible, reliable, visible way. Even if residents have Internet access, how many would regularly check government websites for notices?
This legislation, which would allow the substitution of posting notices on government websites instead of in newspapers, does not contain any standards or requirements on how these notices must be posted. Without standards or penalty for failure to post these notices, what do citizens do if notices aren’t posted properly? If a government website goes down, how would the public be informed? Included in the current law are consequences to local governments if they fail to properly publish certain notices. The current law also has extensive requirements for how and what newspapers must do when printing notices.
Where is the permanent record, if the law changes? Notices printed in newspapers are archived for all time. Public notices in newspapers are the permanent records of what local governments do. Years down the road, any citizen can go to a newspaper archive and read what the government did. That permanent record prevents government from changing notices without going through proper procedures. Printed public notices are a form of checks and balances on potential government mistakes.
The more open and accessible government information is, the better off its citizens will be. Let’s keep notices in newspapers, maintain the transparency of local governments and keep citizens informed.