Citizens Need to Fight to Keep Notices Where They’ll Be Noticed
North Carolinians face a true threat to their right to know about important government meetings and decisions if House Bill 193 passes. The bill would give local governments the option to pass an ordinance allowing public notices to be posted on their websites instead of being published in newspapers. Sponsored by Wake County’s Rep. Skip Stam and Rep. Julia Craven Howard (Davie and Iredell counties), the bill deprives citizens — especially the poor and those who live in areas of North Carolina without internet access — of their right to know in advance when their government agencies are meeting and what they will talk about. This is simply bad government: It hides a real agenda to deprive the public of information as a bill designed to save government’s money. In effect, the government will put itself in charge of policing its own performance on how well it serves the public. Legal notices are meant to be noticed, and local governments can’t sufficiently meet that obligation simply by posting information on their websites. Let’s be up front about this. Newspapers earn revenue by publishing legal notices, and the cost is a concern for some local governments, who, understandably, are looking for ways to save money. But this isn’t just a money issue. It’s about accountability. Government has a responsibility and legal obligation to inform the public about its business. Traditionally, the place most people have looked for that information has been their local newspaper. Despite changes in recent years, including the popularity of the internet, that is still true. Some citizens will never have home computers or online access. Some who do won’t find local government websites easy to use. Newspapers are affordable, available and accessible to everyone. Removing legal notices may save governments a few dollars, but the cost will be less access and accountability. That is a high price indeed. If you are as concerned about House Bill 193 as we are, we encourage you to contact members of the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold a public hearing on the bill soon. The committee’s chairman is Rep. Deborah Ross (Wake County) and vice chairs are Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin (Richmond County and part Montgomery County), Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam (Wake County) and Rep. Bonner L. Stiller (Brunswick County). Other members include Rep. Martha B. Alexander (Mecklenburg County), Rep. John Marshall Blust (Guilford County), Rep. Angela Rebecca Bryant (Nash and Halifax counties), Rep. Larry Hall (Durham County), Rep. Pricey Harrison (Guilford County), Rep. Verla Insko (Orange County), Rep. Grier Martin (Wake County), Rep. Annie Mobley (Hertford County), Rep. Wil Neumann (Gaston County), Rep. Sarah Stevens (Surry and Alleghany counties) and Rep. Roger West (Cherokee County).
This editorial represents the views of Womack Publishing, Womack Newspapers and and all subsidiaries, which rely on revenues from legal notices to survive.
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