Public notices the public can’t find?

By Dave Taylor

I’m going to teach you a new word that will be very important for you to know for the remainder of this editorial. The word is “obfuscate.” To find out what it means, simply visit https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obfuscate and see definition B.

That’s not very convenient, is it? For the record, the word means “to make obscure.” 

HB 351, passed this week in the house promises to do just that with governmental information, by allowing agencies to post notices and other important information on their own websites rather than in the local newspaper, arguing it’ll save money.

But posting notices online isn’t free either, because someone has to be paid to update the site, and what happens if no one does it? Hancock County’s own website has a section for “new ordinances” and it lists just one, from 2008.

Notices in Hancock County could be spread over at least four different websites.

 A strong argument for an informed public is the case of Bell, California, a small town where a corrupt city manager was hired just as the local newspaper folded, and where a state law said the city council there didn’t have to post its meeting dates or agendas except taped to the city hall front door.

With no one watching, that city manager raised his salary to $787,000 a year, and each part-time councilman was making nearly $100,000, all in a city smaller than Owensboro. Years later the corruption was exposed, by a newspaper.

Small weekly papers like the Hancock Clarion depend on the revenue from public notices to survive, and if papers die so do their watchful eyes.

The government continues to spend money to print restaurant health grades, weight limits for bridges and other information because it deems that information important enough to be clear and conspicuous. Isn’t what schools and governments are doing with taxpayers’ money just as important?

Republican State Senator Matt Castlen is on the appropriations and revenue committee, which is reviewing HB 351 for a possible vote in the senate. If you value an informed public, call his office at 502.564.8100 ext 688 and ask him to fight to remove that wording from the bill.

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