Archived Story

Keep it transparent

Published 12:18am Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A little more than a month ago, a bill that would remove public notices from newspapers and hide them from the public eye was filed in the N.C. General Assembly.

In the interest of open, transparent government, this bill must be defeated. The bill, if it becomes law, would eliminate the requirement to publish all types of public notices in newspapers – at the option of local government.

House Bill 472, which was filed by House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican, and three other House members from both sides of the aisle, applies to all counties and municipalities in the state. Similar bills in the Legislature target specific municipalities and counties.

The Washington Daily News joins other newspapers and the North Carolina Press Association in opposing the bill. The bill is terrible public policy.

“House Bill 472 not only slams the door closed on open government and leaves every citizen of the state in the dark, it goes a scary step farther: it allows the government to police itself. That was not a good idea all those decades ago when lawmakers passed the laws that require such notices to be made public,” reads a statement from the North Carolina Press Association. “And it’s not a good idea now, with a Legislature that otherwise was setting a new and welcome agenda for a more open government for all.”

North Carolinians cannot afford to let the government take away their right to open, transparent government. If this bill becomes law, local government officials would be able to conduct their business behind closed doors or by posting important public notices on their websites, where they control content and determine what the public should know and not know.

That’s not acceptable.

“We have said that time and time before, and we say it again: taking notices out of newspapers (and newspaper websites, where papers now run those ads for no charge to the taxpayer!) ultimately hurts the people,” reads the NCPA website. “It especially deprives the poor and elderly, who are statistically less likely to have access to computers, much less to broadband.”

We have no quarrel with local governments posting public notices on their websites as long as they post them in newspapers, too. Publishing those notices in newspapers ensures the public has access to what their local governments have done, are doing and plan to do.

We urge our legislators and the public to oppose House Bill 472. It’s not needed. It’s plain wrong.

The damage its passage would do to open, transparent government would be unmeasurable.

North Carolina’s residents deserve government that’s conducted in the sunshine, not under a dark cloud of doubt and distrust.

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