GUEST: Public notices should be available
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  By Sen. KEN YAGER


The issue of whether local governments should post public notices on their own internet website is a question that was discussed more than once in the Senate Stateand Local Government Committee during the 107th General Assembly.  The issue is sure to come up in the 108th.  Local governments, looking for ways to reduce expenditures, are suggesting that they can save money by posting notices on their respective websites rather than posting the notice in the local newspaper.

 Before coming to the Senate in 2009, I had the privilege to serve as a county executive for 24 years. My experience in local government gives me a greater appreciation for the importance of this issue.  The cost of running a public notice is an investment, not a mere expenditure. Using an independent agency - the local newspaper - builds integrity in the process.   To give even the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices tarnishes the already tattered reputation of government because it undermines the concept of independence and transparency.

 Tennessee law currently requires that many public notices be published in a newspaper of general circulation, a concept as old as the Republic itself.  The precedent was set by the first Congress in 1789 and later in Tennessee’s first Constitution.

For example, the legislature requires public notices be given on a variety of critically important subjects: government meetings, bid announcements, notice of parental termination, foreclosure notices, public sale of private property, back tax notices,  estate notices and zoning changes, to name a few.  Although diverse, these examples and other notices have a common thread:  the public’s right to know on matters that significantly affect them.

 Printing public notices in a local newspaper of general circulation creates a permanent record and, most importantly, preserves the integrity of the notices by requiring that an entity separate and apart from the government print the notice.  However well intentioned, shifting the responsibility for printing public notices to the government’s own website raises the specter of manipulation further eroding public  confidence. 

 Local governments struggle financially and understandably are looking for ways to decrease expenditures.  But to suggest that shifting notices to their own website in lieu of the newspaper could have disastrous consequences adversely affecting the public’s right to know.

  But communications have changed.  The internet is becoming the source of information for many people.  In a decade most homes will have access.  Currently, however, only 40% of the populace has access to a computer in the rural areas of Tennessee. In my district, less than a third of households in one county have access to broadband internet.  Moreover, a survey by the Fiscal Review Committee staff showed that over a third of the 455 county and municipal governments in Tennessee do not have websites.

 Rep. Ryan Haynes (R – Knoxville) and I have filed a bill that both will preserve the independence of the public notice and will recognize the growing use of computers.  SenateBill 461/House Bill 1001 will require Tennessee newspapers which print public notices to post them on their website as well.    The bill also requires that every newspaper will have to post on their website homepage a link to the public notice section and another link to a statewide website.  This system will ensure the widest distribution of public notices. But most importantly, notices will be published by those who are independent of government and who are responsible only to the people who read their news reports.  And, this measure comes with no extra cost to the local government.

 Our bill combines the best of both worlds.  It keeps public notices in places where more people can and will find them.  That promotes government transparency and public trust.  You cannot put a dollar figure on it, but we cannot afford to lose it.

 

 




Sen. Ken Yager is a Republican from Harriman in his second term in the State Senate.  He is Chair of the Senate Stateand Local Government Committee.

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Member Opinions:
By: CoreyD on 2/19/13
It is a simple solution to just post a one time notice of the scheduled meetings in the local newspaper for the entire year.

This makes it easy for the local citizens to clip it out and save it and reduces costs to the taxpayer as well.

Any "special called" meetings" are automatically required to be posted along with the agenda so that is a no brainer and can't be circumvented.

Post the schedule for the entire year one time, pay for it one time and be done with it. If anything changes then and only then would the need for an additional posting be required.

I might add that utilizing the websites IS a good thing. We have many here in our small town to include the WBRY, Cannon Courier, Election Commission, Chamber of Commerce, etc. that can provide very useful locations to post meeting notices.

Like it or not more people are turning toward the internet for their news and information. To not utilize it would be kind of silly to say the least.

By: Bud on 2/20/13
our children will see a day when newspapers will be sold on e-bay as antiques and their children wont know what a newspaper is.

no matter what the times are we should use as many options available to assure public notice has been served. bill 461/1001 sounds very reasonable and will serve us well till times change.


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