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The public notices in newspapers keep the government in check
Written by Staff Reporter   
Friday, 10 February 2012 00:00

A person’s No. 1 source of local news is still the newspaper.

Residents pick up The Camp Verde Journal to read about the latest happenings, find feature stories on people they know, follow high school sports and browse public notices. Public notices printed in The Journal allow people to keeps tabs on local government.

Long before transparency was the catch phrase of government watchdogs, Arizona newspapers have been the primary fighters in the battle to keep government records open to citizens. In the last few years, the transparency fight moved to protecting the public’s right to know by keeping public notices in newspapers.

Legals in The Journal include notices on upcoming public hearings, proposed tax increases, ordinance changes, zoning changes, budget proposals, school district information and many other significant government actions and information that impact people’s rights and lives every day.

Importantly, newspapers do this while providing independent, third-party verification information is actually being made available to the public.

Arizona Rep. David Stevens, [R-Sierra Vista], introduced legislation which would allow Internet posting in lieu of newspaper publication. If enacted into law, this bill would have a hugely detrimental impact on the public’s right to know.

In its current form, the bill would allow government to publish public notices in a newspaper or post notices anywhere on the Web. This option would allow government agencies to post important information only on government websites — information that is now pushed out to the public along with local news in the newspaper, on a newspaper’s website and on a centralized statewide website — publicnoticeads.com — a database of all public notices published in newspapers across the state since 1998.

Local newspaper websites are the most popular and most commonly viewed websites in their local communities. Also, the free statewide website received a staggering 1.85 million page views in 2011 alone.

Simply put, the current system is working and working well.

Moreover, government has no business taking over a function currently being performed very well and cost-effectively by Arizona’s newspapers — thus taking private jobs and giving them to government — especially during these tough economic times when jobs are so critical.

Experts agree that there are four elements that mark a valid public notice: The notice must be published by an independent party; the notice must be capable of being archived; the publication must be accessible; and the publication must be verifiable. If any one of these elements is absent, the notice simply cannot be properly authenticated and is subject to challenge.

The public must also be able to verify the notice was not altered once published — something not currently possible on the Web. As we all know, websites are commonly hacked, go down for various reasons and website content can be changed. When published, however, an affidavit is provided by the newspaper, which can be used as independent, third-party verification that the notice was made and proof of the true copy and exact text.

Should government be trusted to police itself when it comes to notifying the public with respect to important information? If the proposed bill were to become law, that is exactly what would happen.

Lastly, the amount of money government spends on these notices is a very small part of the overall budget for cities, towns and counties. In almost all cases, the government spends less than one-half of 1 percent of its budget on this valuable service.

If you value printed notices and have an interest in protecting the public’s right to know, contact the members of the House Technology & Infrastructure Committee using the contact info at the following link http://www.azleg.gov/CommitteeInfo.asp?Committee_ID=21

Now is not the time to make changes to a system that works efficiently and cost effectively.

As they say, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

 

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