Significance of public notices cannot be underestimated
Sometimes in life the little things seem so unimportant. But, later on they become obstacles, or perhaps even excuses for the way things turn out in the end.
That’s why many newspapers across the state have been fighting so hard the past few weeks to kill a small, yet extremely significant bill that made it through the senate last week. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it is a bill that gives certain counties – Haywood being one of them – the “option” of not posting legal advertisements in the local newspaper of record. The “option” that is in the bill is that they can just post it on their website — something we already post on our site for them at no additional cost.
While this bill seems like a very small thing compared to all the budget talk, it is significant because it limits the public’s right to know. If you have Internet access, then you might have a shot at knowing what jobs the county is letting for bid. If you have Internet access, you may be able find the next ordinance hearing the city is having regarding your neighbor putting in an auto repair shop next door. And, if you have Internet access, you may be able to find out when the county budget hearing is being held so you can listen to where they are spending your money, and whether the taxes you pay on your real estate bill are being spent wisely.
Now, I’m not saying any of the entities I have listed above are going to deliberately try to hide anything from you. What I am saying is they have the “option.”
Haywood County's lone voice in the Senate, Jim Davis of Franklin, says it is a way for local government to save money. Maybe, or maybe not. The jury is still out on that issue. But, it begs some important questions that we know are headed their way.
Who is going to be “legally” responsible to make sure the notices and the legal standards that are set by the state are followed? We have more than one person who has to handle all the necessary transactions mandated by law. It’s not just as easy as slapping it on the page and sending the county a bill. There are affidavits we have to sign and send to each entity, verifying the particular legal ran when and how many times it was suppose to, and that we followed the “letter of the law.” It takes time, energy and staff to make this work.
I would be willing to wager that many of the town or county employees are unfamiliar with correctly posting a legal notice, and that most of the senators – especially Mr. Davis – couldn’t place a legal online and get it correct according to state law. And, the state law I am referring to does not exclude these entities from following it to the tee.
Why do I make such bold statements? Because none of them. I repeat, none of them, have ever had to worry about it. It’s always been the responsibility of the newspaper to make sure this information got into the hands of the public and that the law was followed. And, for more than 100 years, The Mountaineer has been doing just that.
We have asked the commissioners to consider having Haywood County dropped from the bill. I have spoken to more than one of them who said they would discuss this at their next meeting. That is all I can ask for.
This bill may seem insignificant right now. But for the thousands of people who can’t afford, or even get Internet access at their residence, let alone the computer needed to find this information, they are being done a grave injustice. I know our readers. And, I know they choose to read the newspaper because they care about this county. I am hopeful the commissioners realize this also, before it’s too late.