Views from Kansas: Keep printing public notices

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

There have been attempts by state legislators over the years to remove the requirements for local government entities to publish legal notices in newspapers. For any elected officials who claim to be dedicated to fiscal responsibility and lower taxes, this is the exact opposite of what they should be working toward.

Recently, there was an idea proposed by one legislator to allow county commissions, school boards and city councils to publish their notices on government websites. An effort like this is usually pitched as a cost-saving measure for these local governments.

I acknowledge these boards do not like running these notices, because most of them just see the price tag and don’t understand the principle of why they should be printed. Others just as soon prefer to keep their tax increases and government spending out of the public eye.

I have heard local elected officials work to avoid tax increases because they want to avoid publishing legally required notices announcing the increase. So as a result of this requirement and an aversion to it by council and board members, taxpayers end up saving money.

These legal publications are checks on local government, meant in part to bring a heightened level of transparency to the expenditures of your tax dollars. As a percentage of their overall budget, the cost of publishing notices is often totally irrelevant.

As an alternative, the reality of publishing notices on local websites is that the local governments would be hiding them there, instead of publishing them for everyone to see.

Who would actually spend time tracking down the various government websites to find the page with the legal publications? In trying to find that information, you might want to look at the local Washington County page. If you’ve never been on it before, you’ll need to be sure to get the right one. Did you know there are 30 Washington counties in the United States, each with its own website?

Then you’ll need to switch over to the school district website. Then the city website. Maybe even a township website? Want to compare your school district’s tax levy to the neighboring district? Start Googling and be ready to spend some time staring at your screen, because it could be a never-ending search.

In the newspaper, that information, which includes budgets, financial statements, ordinance changes and much more, can be found in one easily-accessible publication, right next to the news you might be reading about your kids’ sports team or a story on the county commission or anything within the easily-consumable pages of news each week. Tax information cannot be buried or hidden when you can quickly flip through the pages of a newspaper from beginning to end.

It is also impossible to change a legal publication when it is printed in ink on paper. It becomes a permanent record. While I don’t believe any of our current local government employees would purposefully change a legal public notice if it were published online, it is very easy to change digital files and there is plenty of precedent around America showing illegal activities among government employees trying to hide things.

Do you want to keep your taxes down? Make sure your elected officials (on all levels) know they should keep public notices in the newspaper and never allow website publication as an alternative. We need to keep the fiscal business of local government in the public eye, rather than hiding them on obscure websites. These legal publications are checks on local government, meant to bring a heightened level of transparency to the expenditures of your tax dollars.

If legislators want to make some changes, they’d be better off requiring larger font sizes in the public notices so they are more legible, and even increasing the frequency of publication so citizens have more of a chance to see the notices.

Ultimately, this is an effort to keep our own hard-earned taxpayer money in our pockets by putting a spotlight on government business and spending. More awareness within our citizenry allows for more accountability of our local elected officials and government employees.

Any argument by a legislator that this is a cost-saving measure, is blatantly false and anyone claiming to be a fiscal conservative while arguing against public notices in newspapers is sabotaging their efforts to keep taxes low.

— From the Washington County News


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