Every year (and 2014 is no exception) some lawmaker somewhere trots out legislation that would allow local governments to take over the job of publishing public notices on their own web sites, in newsletters or in some other obscure way.
The reasons vary, but a recurring theme is to save money — even though the cost of such notices averages less than one half of 1 percent of overall spending.
The reality is that some in government simply don’t want to be held accountable in the way that public notices published in the local newspaper make them accountable. Some want to control both the message and the medium.
Public notice is critical to all kinds of public business, from announcing when an elected body will meet to when an election will be held (and the deadline for candidates for enter the race) to when bids are being accepted for paving jobs to who is getting those bids and at what price.
Private—sector publication of public notices is a another form of the checks and balances that ensure government is doing what it is supposed to be doing. Do we really want to depend on local government to ensure that bid information, for instance, is properly posted on a government web site for the specified amount of time at a site easily accessed and widely known? No. Web sites are ephemeral, and information can come and go — or be hacked.
There are strict rules and regulations concerning public notices published in the local paper, and after publication they exist as a permanent, hard—copy record of what was said and when it appeared. When a public notice is published in the newspaper there is no question whether a local government fulfilled its disclosure responsibilities, which can have major legal ramifications. It’s right there in black and white, and widely distributed.