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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials Editorial: Legislation Would Hide Public Notices From The Public

Editorial: Legislation Would Hide Public Notices From The Public

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

Senate Bill 287, was passed by a vote of 26-22 on Tuesday April 23. The legislation would give local governments the option to advertise public notices on their websites rather than in newspapers. The bill would apply ten counties including Burke, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Mecklenburg, Swain, Union and Wake counties. The House will now consider the bill.
The current requirement is for local governments to publish notices in a newspaper announcing meetings, zoning amendments and other items to be considered by a local governing body.
The proposed legislation ignores the fact that the interested public are accustom to keeping tabs on their government by turning to newspapers in print and online. 
The existing law requires local governments to publish notices with a third-party who in turn provide sworn affidavits that the notices were published on the ordered dates. Simply giving local governments the option to opt out of that requirement and instead publish notices deep within their websites with only themselves monitoring the accuracy of the notices and publishing dates is reckless and a slap in the face of open government.
How often do you visit your city and county websites?
People know where to go for public notices and newspapers help draw attention to those notices through news reports.
Some have argued that newspaper publishers oppose the legislation simply because it will cut into their profits.
Speaking for the Island Gazette, we don't make money on advertising public notices above printing and administrative costs. That equals laying out the ads, staff time and putting ink and paper on the press as well as delivery of the publication each week. In addition to publishing the notices in print, we publish them online at no additional cost.
We also publish them in large visible box-ads, not burried in a classifieds section.
Paricularly for small newspapers, it's not a profit issue, but it does help pay employees who in turn spend that money within the local economy.
The current system has worked since the 1940's and to lessen the requirements by allowing themselves to be the sole gatekeepers is like handing the Fox the key to the hen house.
Many people don't have the capability to access the County's website. Some seniors who are less likely to use the Internet and some low income who can't afford Internet access, computers or expensive smart phones.
Let's hope the House votes down this legislation and maintains the public's confidence in open government.