What do the following things have in common?
Budget hearings … raising taxes … special-use permits for a bar in a local shopping center … design reviews for big box stores … annexations … restrictive sign ordinances … amending development ordinances … rezonings … bond referendums … bids for new schools … hazard mitigation plans … sale of town property … towns purchasing property … capital improvement plans … waste water spills …
All of these are items for which your county or town government must give you due notice.
For more than 100 years, those public notices have gone out via the local newspaper, which stands apart from government as a guardian of the people’s right to know.
As times have changed, newspapers have become print/digital hybrids, giving taxpayers unprecedented ability to see what government is up to.
What is unchanged is the mandate newspapers have to be the fourth check or balance for government.
After all, it’s hard to argue with the published word.
Now, the largest municipalities in the state have decided they’re tired of being accountable. They would like to govern themselves without all you pesky people getting in the way. And they’ve roped in some state senators.
Senate Republican Trudy Wade (Guilford) and Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee Tom Apodaca (Hendersonville) have given notice that come hell or high water, they are going to gut a solid, bipartisan legal notices bill (HB 156) that was designed to keep public notices in newspapers, and require they be put on the Internet at no additional cost, while simultaneously reducing costs to municipalities.
Wade and Apodaca don’t like scrutiny personally and are going along with the push by these mega-municipalities that don’t want notices in newspapers at all. They think letting themselves govern how and where they hide run notices of what they’re up to is better.
If you think that’s mere rhetoric, think again.
Over two legislative sessions, maverick House Republicans Marilyn Avila, Chris Malone, Ted Davis Jr. and Justin Burr along with Democrats Bobbie Richardson, Rosa Gill, Pricey Harrison, Susan Fisher, George Graham and Ken Waddell won approval of their bill, HB 156.
The bill reduces the cost of legal notification advertising, while cleverly requiring newspapers to make free, front-page postings of the notices on the newspaper’s website, as well as give free e-mail notification of the postings to anyone who wants to receive them.
Avila, Malone and the rest know that newspapers, as champions of openness and transparency, are in the business of communication. Newspapers are already publishing news both in print and on the Internet. So, the cheapest, most cost-effective way to keep the public informed about city hall’s goings on is via the newspaper.
But, if you live in any city that has more than 150,000 residents (Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Charlotte, Greensboro) Wade, Apodaca and what seems like a majority of Republican senators have a better use for your taxpayer money: They want you to pay directly for all that by letting municipalities be in charge of how information is communicated.
Wade and Apodaca say it’s all about choice. We can appreciate that. But, instead of taxpayers having one place to look for legal notices (the same place they’ve been for 100 years), municipalities can have the choice to run the notices on their own website. Or in the local paper. Or in a free-distribution penny saver that no one reads. Or on someone else’s website. Or how about in the direct mail that goes straight into the trash and is delivered by a postal service that likes to increase postage on a bi-monthly basis. That’ll be a real cost-saver.
Better, municipalities could choose a different publication manner every month, keeping taxpayers completely confused.
Do not be fooled. This is not about cost, either. Towns and counties are going to pay, one way or the other, to publish notices. Newspapers have always been the most cost-efficient means to achieve transparency and communication — just as companies like the S.T. Wooten Corporation are the most cost-effective providers of new bridges like the one going up on Cedar Creek Road just north of Youngsville. We don’t see any municipality clamoring to have it’s own bridge-building department, you know, to save money and provide more flexibility.
Municipalities simply cannot underbid newspapers.
Newspapers are a private industry and must work hard to keep costs down and efficiencies up. If the market dips, we cut, we revise, we get creative.
Governments don’t have to worry with all that. If revenues dip, they just raise taxes, or fees, or both. They might go so far as to create an cost-oversight committee — which just raises costs and results in yet more taxes.
So what happens if those municipalities and senators get their wish and residents find that notices are hard to find, buried or moved around in some sort of crazy shell game?
It’ll just be too bad, so sad for the taxpayer.
By the time you realize you need to cry “Foul!” it’ll be too late.
Don’t let Wade, Apodaca and others take away your right to live without fear of what new “fast one” your commissioners are trying to slip past you.
Tell Wade (919-733-5856), Apodaca (919-733-5745) and your own Senator (Chad Barefoot, 919-715-3036) today, that you won’t stand for that kind of hypocrisy.
It’s simply not how we do things in North Carolina.