Why public notices need to be kept public

Last Thursday, Black Hills Pioneer Publisher Letitia Lister testifies against HB 1141 and HB 1142 before the House Local Government Committee in Pierre. The two bills were sent to the 41st day of the legislative session. Photo courtesy of David Bordewyk

Since you are reading this column in a newspaper, it’s pretty safe to assume that you also believe in the value of local journalism, and the public’s right to accessible, factual information about our community and local government.

On Thursday, I traveled to Pierre to testify before the House Local Government committee. Two anti-newspaper bills (HB1141 & 1142) were presented by Rep. Tom Brunner, District 29 (representing Butte, Meade and Pennington counties) with HB1142 being drafted by Yvonne Taylor, Ex. Director for the S.D. Municipal League.

Through the efforts of Dave Bordewyk and Justin Smith of the S.D. Newspaper Association, along with myself, we were able to achieve a sound defeat of both bills in committee by a vote of 11-1 on each.

Rep. Chuck Turbiville, District 31 (Lawrence County) and Rep. Sam Marty, District 28B (Butte, Harding and Perkins counties) were among those 11 that voted on the side of the newspapers.

For some reason Taylor, the Municipal League and a few other governmental representatives continue to think that it would be better to allow local governmental entities to post and hide public notices (legals) on their own individual websites rather than through community newspapers- an independent, accountable third-party.

This is equivalent to asking “the fox to watch the henhouse.” Taylor and the Municipal League have repeatedly brought this pro-internet, anti-newspaper type of legislation every year for the last seven years — and fortunately, thoughtful elected officials have prevailed and soundly rejected it every time.

This year there were a parade of proponents that testified to remove public notices from newspapers including:

• Yvonne Taylor, S.D. Municipal League

• Eric Erickson, S.D. Association of County Commissioners

• Robert Monson, School Administrators of S.D.

• Wade Pogany, Associated School Boards of S.D.

• Dianna Miller, Large School Group

• Mike Keolker, mayor of the Town of Newell

Our newspaper has traditionally had a good open relationship with these entities on a local level, so this came as a surprise to me. What exactly are their representatives so concerned about the public reading? Do they not want their constituents asking questions? Are they wanting to make it more difficult for you to find information on their actions and spending? Whatever the scenario, it is troubling to say the least.

The Municipal League continues to claim it will save money by posting on the internet. It will not. I understand budgets are tight, and I don’t want to see money wasted either, but their solution consistently fails to mention the fact that they will still have to pay for website software and hosting and pay for someone to update and maintain the information — something newspapers are already doing at no additional charge. The annual cost to publish Public Notices in minuscule in comparison to any city, county, or school board budget- in many instances as little as 1/10th of 1 percent.

They also consistently fail to address the real threat of on-line information being hacked, deleted or manipulated.

The Municipal League testified this week that they would follow their “manual” and keep records for four years. That is most definitely not permanent. S.D. Newspapers publish Public Notices in hard copy form, in our E-editions, and online & mobile platforms ensuring easy public access and a permanent record. The Black Hills Pioneer can be researched back to 1876 — that’s over 141 years.

In addition, the public has free 24 hour access to statewide Public Notices at www.sdpublicnotices.com  

This service is a cooperative effort by all newspapers in the state and provided free of charge by the S.D. Newspaper Association.

This fight is about transparency and accessibility, period.

Newspapers in South Dakota are the consistent watchdog of local government. We make sure that agendas are posted for the public in a compliant and timely manner. Our reporters attend city council, county commission, and school board meetings to ensure proper procedure is followed and then condense the information into a digestible format for our readers.

Newspapers then make sure these governmental entities are lawfully compliant with submitting their minutes.

As a wise 60+ year career newspaper woman recently remarked to me, “This is a fight as old as newspapers. It has nothing to do with government officials trying to save money. It has everything to do with them trying to hide information from the public.” 

So next year when a pro-internet, anti-newspaper bill comes up at the SD Legislature, as I’m sure it will, please consider contacting your local city council, county commissioners, school board and state legislators. You can even contact them right now. Let them know you want them to stand strong with newspapers and ensure that South Dakota residents have the right to easily access the business of government in a reliable and efficient manner.

 

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