Printing legal notices keeps public informed

The Tribune

To be effective, a democracy requires a well-

informed and engaged public. Impeding the

flow of or access to information limits that

public engagement.

One of the ways Jackson County residents are informed about government activities is through

the news columns of the newspaper, and we take this responsibility seriously. It is at the core of

our mission.

We keep abreast of those activities by checking meeting agendas, attending meetings and talking to the leaders themselves. We get ideas for stories from a variety of sources, one of the most important of which is you, our readers.

Ideas also come from the columns of legal

advertising that run in the classified ad section

of the newspaper. These notices are there not for our reporters’ benefit but for yours, to let the

public know about specific governmental actions and proposals.

Sometimes, these notices pique our curiosity and end up as stories.

Other times, they involve local matters that have an impact on a potentially large number of people. An example of this occurred in Columbus, where our sister paper ran an article about a rezoning proposal to allow construction of a cellphone tower. Many people in the community were unaware of the request and found out about it only through the newspaper. They registered their opposition, and the proposal was halted.

But had that legal notice not appeared in the newspaper, would a large segment of the public have known about it? Probably not.

Which brings us to an issue that will come to a head early next year. Last year, state legislators placed a “sunset” to the requirement that local government agencies publish their budgets as part of the notice of budget hearings. There will be no such requirement next year, unless the General Assembly reverses itself in the next session, which begins next month.

The change in the budget-publishing requirement was sought by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. The argument for removing that requirement was that people could easily access the information on the Internet.

However, posting such vital information only online requires people to regularly access and search the appropriate site. Miss a few days, and the information easily can be overlooked. In the newspaper, readers can skim through the list of notices quickly and efficiently and read those that appear most vital to them. In addition, the archiving of notices in print makes it easier to find older notices.

Removing budget details from newspaper public notices reduces resident access to this important information. Hoosiers would read public notices

less frequently if they were placed only on the state agency’s site.

A recent survey by the Princeton, New Jersey-based American Opinion Research asked state residents their thoughts on the importance of public notice advertisements in local newspapers. The study was commissioned by the Hoosier State Press Association’s board of directors. (For the record, The Tribune is a member of the press association.) A total of 1,000 Hoosiers were surveyed, and the findings were overwhelming:

85 percent supported publication of public

notices as a way to inform residents of govern-

ment actions.

64 percent said governmental entities should be required to publish these announcements, even though they cost them thousands of extra dollars per year.

61 percent said they had read or seen public notice advertising in a newspaper.

We urge state legislators to help keep Hoosiers better informed by reversing the “sunset” decision so governments will continue to publish vital information in a form that is most easily accessed by a large segment of the public.

Send comments to Tribune editor Aubrey Woods at awoods@tribtown.com.

At issue

A rule requiring government budgets to be published as legal advertisements is about to expire.

Our point

The General Assembly should renew the requirement and continue to make this vital information easily accessible to a large portion of the public.