“Government ought to be all outside and no inside ... Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.”
— Woodrow Wilson
Right now, we want you to participate in an experiment. Think of any major company in the state — contractor or supplier of goods. Now, go to a website and find out how much the state government spends with that particular company each year. When you’ve done that, you can move onto the next challenge — find out how much your county or most local municipal government has spent with that company.
Heck, when you get to that level, try to find out how much ANY company has received from local government in the past year.
It’s not an easy task. In fact, especially considering the state of most local government websites, finding information online about actions taken by the government is often impossible, aside from the reporting on said actions by local media, most often originating with your local newspaper of record.
That is not necessarily because local governments are trying to necessarily hide anything. It’s, in most cases, because online transparency is a secondary thought to governments.
For much of the history of our nation, governments have been forced to put notice of particular actions in local newspapers, as public notice. In fact, the publication requirements were so important that not following them meant that actions could be reversed.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and premature burial of the newspaper industry over the years. We still believe we remain — for the communities we serve — the primary means of finding out what’s going on in government. Our staff sits through the public meetings to try to find the information you need to go about your daily life. We dig through documents and conduct interviews to try to find the truth and giving you that information is our primary job.
Public notices have long been on the chopping block, as officials look for ways to save money. As in past years, Kentucky lawmakers were planning this year to take action to remove public notices from even more newspapers across the commonwealth. However, after working with our industry organization — the Kentucky Press Association — a compromise was reached earlier in the current legislative session on a measure which would have added a few more counties to the rolls of those who are allowed to public notices online.
And we thought that was it. But it wasn’t.
We’ll let Steve Stewart, of fellow KPA member The State Journal in Frankfort, explain what went down.
“Hours before lawmakers voted on a two-year state budget plan, (Rep. Steven Rudy, R-Paducah, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Revenue Committee) inserted completely unrelated language allowing cities, counties, school boards, planning commissions and other local government entities to publish notices about tax increases, zoning changes, bid solicitations and other important matters on their own websites rather than in local newspapers.
Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, a champion of transparency, attempted to remove the public notice language on the House floor Friday but was unsuccessful, so it will now be up the Senate to call foul on Rudy’s power play. Reps. Angie Hatton, Mary Lou Marzian, Patti Minter, Terri Branham Clark, Maria Sorolis and Lisa Willner made passionate appeals on behalf of transparency before the House vote.”
We get it — local governments are struggling to make ends meet. Cost-saving measures are not only needed but welcomed. But, those cost-savings should never come at the expense of people’s ability to know what’s going on in their government.
The notices being published in the local newspaper means that the public always has a way to access measures which may make a major difference in people’s lives.
This measure will not save money for governments which really want to ensure people are informed. Those governments will have to invest more for websites that are more user-friendly and capable of delivering these notices.
If they want people to be truly informed of a measure, they’ll have to invest time, money and effort into reaching out to those affected people directly, instead of being assured that the information is published in one place in a community that is available and accessible to all.
The governments who would prefer that the people not interrupt their “governance” will have carte blanche to push through some excessively shady and criminal activity.
We don’t know Rep. Rudy’s motives for pushing through a measure which is contrary to the compromise reached earlier this session. If it’s about cost savings, we get it. But this isn’t the way to accomplish that.
If it’s something else, however, something more along the lines of removing even more of the power of the press to inform the public of what’s going on in their governments, then there’s a bigger problem at play.
Either way, we ask for our readers to contact their senators to express their desire for the legislators to keep notices in local newspapers. It’s important because government conducted in the dark will eventually cost much more than the expense of keeping these notices in the newspaper.