Public notices need to be where the public notices

| April 30, 2013

beth-graceby Beth Grace

Public notices need to be where the public notices.

But state legislators and a handful of local government agents want to take legally required public notices advertisements that tell you about major road closings, competitive bids being sought, elections scheduled, important public hearings set, etc. out of the newspapers that have run them for upwards of 200 years, and hide them in plain sight.

They want the public not only to hunt for notices on obscure government websites, they also expect the public to somehow just know that they need to go and look for them. Unless you ask for an email alerting you that a public notice is filed, you won’t have any idea anything is happening. Most adults read newspapers or check them out online. Newspapers specialize in bringing the news to you. Let’s face it, most government agencies are not known for being all that forthcoming.

And if you have no Internet or broadband access, as is the case in many parts of North Carolina, good luck connecting with these government-run websites. If you are not computer literate, if you are poor, if you live somewhere with no free access to Internet or access at all you will effectively lose your right to know.

If that doesn’t scare you, consider this: If this sort of legislation passes and expands to a statewide level, government will police itself, deciding what you need to know … and what they don’t want you to know.

History tells us this is bad government, bad public policy – just a very bad idea to anyone who values transparency.

Government unchecked is government unchained.

Who will be there to speak for you and me? One cannot count on the government standing tall for the right to know. Case in point: A state senator recently was so incensed at being questioned by a North Carolina Press Association member publisher about a committee vote that sent a public notice bill to the Senate floor, he blurted out: “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

If an elected government representative will say that to someone who publishes a newspaper and has the wherewithal to tell the world, what will he say to you when you learn, one day, that the highway on which your family restaurant is located is closed to build a bypass? A public notice in your newspaper would have alerted you.

What will he tell you about that property down the street from your home being rezoned as commercial? Surprise! He’d tell you that you should have known look on a government website. They’re pumping wastewater into the river? Well, it’s up to you to somehow divine that such a thing is about to happen. Property taxes have gone up? Go hunt for the notice that would have alerted you.

Governments say they want to run notices on their own websites, with no public oversight, to save money. We understand that saving money is in everyone’s interest. That’s why the North Carolina Press Association has teamed with some smart legislators to propose a bipartisan bill (HB 723) that cuts newspaper prices for these ads and offers to post every notice on a newspaper website with a free statewide website provided at no cost to government or taxpayers.

Everybody wins — governments save money and the public sees notices that could change lives. Newspapers remain strong and continue to defend transparency and government openness against all comers.

Public notices exist because the public has the right to know what government is doing in its name. Don’t let special interests take your rights away. Call and email your legislators and tell them YOU want to know what’s going on! Tell them to support House Bill 723!

Beth Grace is the Executive Director of the NC Press Association

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

Comments (4)

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  1. Richard Bunce says:

    Newspapers, having been granted specific protections in the Press clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, should serve the greater good, as I know they all desire to do, by publishing these public notices at no charge to the governments that are required to use them and at no charge to the citizens they claim to serve. Sure most of the newspapers are corporations and their employees use corporate resources to perform their press functions. Sure most of the newspapers oppose the USSC Citizens United ruling and believe that persons lose their First Amendment speech protections when speaking with a corporate structure using corporate resources. Time for newspapers to serve the greater good and step up putting their profits where their pens are…

  2. Keith Brown says:

    Newspaper Publishers are predictably fighting the bills, one of the last reliable revenue streams for print newspapers.
    But what they’re really arguing for is a right to maintain a monopoly on what has essentially become a government subsidy of their operations.
    It’s a position that is hostile to taxpayers and consumers by blocking free market competition and potentially saving governments money.
    This from Howard Owens digital pioneer.
    It is a joke seeing the NC Press Association keep their blinders on to this issue. It is not 1949 but 2013 and time for the digital age to provide this information and save taxpayers money.

  3. dj anderson says:

    I will confess. I never read the public notices in the paper. I do rely on the reporters to report most things of interest to me. I’ve never read a public notice in the back pages to find a request for rezoning in my area, but I have and will keep seeing the yellow signs posted on the property.

    This blog would have me believe the state is trying to hide things from me, keep them secret. I don’t buy that, do you? This blog wants me to support paying every major paper in the state taxpayer money for ads not posted.

    Now, if this blog were wanting to say the Republican are giving the democratic backing major papers some political payback, I’d believe that.

    The N&O, for example, will lose a steady source of income. Making newspapers angry is a brave act, but what newspapers supported these legislators? Someone bet on the wrong horse!

    “…propose a bipartisan bill (HB 723) that cuts newspaper prices…” blog

    There is the rub, CUTS, but not eliminates prices, or payments.

    Then, this blog goes on to say “…and offers to post every notice on a newspaper website with a free statewide website provided at no cost to government or taxpayers.”

    Isn’t that another website that we the public isn’t going to see, if we are not going to see the government site?

    Let’s make the papers carry the public notices for free and see which ones want to do it! That will not happen. This is about taxpayer money going to major newspapers.

    Or, let’s let the private media pay for the website when there is no money for printed notices given them. I don’t think the print media will put up a dime for that site if they are not getting cash for ink.

    No, this blog has not convinced me that the state has to keep paying printed papers to post public notices anymore than we should pay trains to carry mail from one coast to another. Remember mail cars on trains? They were eliminated, and sadly, passenger trains lost a steady revenue source and diminished, too.

    Times change, and newspapers should give way to the internet to save taxpayer money. If we want to save newspapers, we don’t have to do it with notices that are little read in papers that most citizens no longer buy.

    Maybe I’m way off the mark on this one…so correct me, but had it been posted with the other taxpayer paid notices I would never have read it.

    • md wood says:

      Ms. Grace doesn’t seem to realize that Public Notice advertisements in local newspapers are already “obscure” and “hidden from plain sight”. In most communities you are lucky if the newspaper is received by 25% of the population and of that a tiny percentage bother with the classified section. Requiring government and corporate entities to place ads in this section (at premium rates) amounts to little more than government subsidies for these private companies.