Importance of public notices can’t be overstated

KENT FLANAGAN,

executive director

tennessee coalition for open government

 

With the adoption of Tennessee’s Sunshine Law in 1974, public notice became the linchpin that made certain that every public governing body would be required to post notice in advance of all meetings so that its business and deliberations would be conducted in full public view.

Many other types of legal notices ranging from announcements of public sales of private property and foreclosure sales to termination of parental rights also fall under the heading of public notices or legals.

All of these activities are required to be posted or published in newspapers so that citizens in all communities are informed about the activities of their city council, county commission, election commission, public utilities, courts, law enforcement, recreation departments and many other public bodies.

In recent years, however, some local governments and members of the legislature have advocated posting public notices on government websites to cut the expense of publishing them and saying that newspapers are dying and no longer have the readership they once had.

Such efforts are ill advised.

First, and foremost, surveys have shown most people do not and would not access government websites to read public notices.

Organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and AARP, oppose efforts by state and local governments to post their own public notices.

Second, newspapers have been publishing public notices since the First Congress ordered publication of notices in 1789. The long history of verifiable publication of notices has fostered a public trust that does not extend to government-only posting online. You can call it “the fox guarding the henhouse syndrome.”

Finally, newspapers have adapted to 21st Century technology and post public notices on their own websites at the same time they are published. Also, the Tennessee Press Association has established a searchable statewide website where all public notices are posted at the same time as they are locally. This extends the reach of trusted, independent publication exponentially, well beyond the reach of government attempting to serve its own needs.

Posted on Monday, January 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm