We were somewhat surprised to see, in its age of accountability, that the Louisiana legislature is entertaining a substantial number of legislative proposals to eliminate printed notices in newspapers. The legislative members want you to swallow their concept that notices spread willy-nilly over many governmental Web sites are sufficient when they want to annex your property, build a dump next to your homestead or have an election.
In years past, Louisiana legislators have recognized the value, the essentiality of printed notices in local newspapers. That’s why over the years the legislature has required new notices, amplified notices, and instituted more frequency of some notices while at the same time keeping a firm hand on the expense of these valued publications. In an irony of the 2010 session, bills have been filed requiring more notice. However, a handful of legislators, primarily from metropolitan areas, have filed bills to move all such notice to the Internet.
Louisianans value printed notices in local newspapers.
In a recent statewide survey 83% of Louisiana citizens said they felt the requirement to publish public notice in print kept local officials more honest. 81% said they felt the requirement made local officials more careful about how they spent taxpayer money. 60% said it was highly unlikely that they would seek out such information scattered around obscure sites on the Internet. Those are percentages everybody can understand.
In Louisiana, 80% of the respondents said it was money well spent. They understand it is money that protects their interests as citizens of this state. The founding fathers of this country believed in a system of checks and balances. The public notice requirement is one of those checks.
Some people want you to believe newspapers and their readers are nearly dead. This is not the case. In fact, newspaper readership is high – especially in local areas – and newspaper readers are the most informed active citizens in town. You’re proving that point right now!
Here are a few nasty truths about government-operated Web sites and government cable channels. They don’t carry any bad news about the government, the officials in office, or other sorts of wrong doing. It’s all fluffy stuff about how wonderful things are in the state, the parish or the city.
Go visit your “official” parish Web site. Search for stories about the embezzling employee, police brutality cases, questionable expenditures by city management or legal actions against the city. Let us know if it is on the home page. You may have witnessed a local miracle.
Here’s another problem. Government-operated Web sites don’t push notices out to anyone. While accessible to everyone with a computer and internet connectivity, they notify no one.
The annexation or eminent domain notice intended to warn citizens the parish about to take their property just sits on a computer server until you get the urge to cruise their Web site. But local newspapers print and push out these notices, making them widely available to everyone in the area.
Another fundamental flaw of digital public notice is that they can be altered or deleted. For example, if there is an error, the city can simply fix the notice to their liking. Then the city can swear on its own authority that the notice was always correct and ran for the right amount of time. How convenient. We wonder if they will pinky swear or use the more legally binding cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die swear.
That is not so with ink-on-paper notices in the local newspaper. Ink-on-paper notices cannot be hacked or altered. Newspapers are an independent third party and provide a notarized affidavit the notice ran as required by law.
You can also find public notices in newspapers as far back as you need to look. While we may revisit a Web site from week to week, the content is not the same. The information has been changed or deleted.
These legislative proposals for online-only public notices – in a medium controlled by the state, the parish, or cities – are not in line with the thinking of Louisiana citizens, and certainly not in line with the founding principles of this country.
Government should be accountable to the people, and local newspapers are one of the few defenses citizens have to make sure that happens.
The state, the parish, and cities should be required to warn you of their actions in the very medium they sometimes despise – the local newspaper that monitors and reports on their actions – both good and bad.
Public notices in local newspapers make a big difference in keeping the governments that affect your everyday lives accountable. That must be why legislators are pushing for public notices to be eliminated from our local newspaper.
If they say it is the cost, then we urge citizens to ask for the checkbook and review how the state, the parish, the school board and the cities spend every penny of your tax money. Our guess is citizens would find other expenses that could be cut before accountability notices are eliminated. Research shows less than 1% of public body budgets are spent on public notices. Isn’t your peace of mind that your government is working in your best interest, worth 1%?
Louisiana State Newspapers Editorials represent the opinions of this newspaper, and not of any one individual.