Good government depends on it

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This week is National Newspaper Week and the 2007 theme centers on public notices in newspapers. Called "legals" by many, public notices are an essential part of open government and an important segment of the community newspaper.

Each week, many area residents study the legals page or pages to keep track of court proceedings, foreclosures and bid opportunities. Laws pertaining to the publication of legal notices also require that cities and counties publish financial statements that show citizens in black and white how taxpayers' money is being spent. Water reports, meeting notices and election ballots are also part of the legal page offerings. By law, these notices must be published in legal newspapers, which in Barry County, includes only two newspapers - the Cassville Democrat and the Monett Times.

The history of public notices dates back to early civilizations when notices were posted in public squares. In the United States, the Acts of the First Session of the First Congress in 1789 required that all bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes be published in at least three publically available newspapers. This practice is hundreds of years old and is worth continuing.

Some government entities balk at having to publish this information in local newspapers and there are always efforts underway to weaken or water down public notice laws. Thankfully, these efforts have been stopped in the name of open government. The public's right to know is an essential part of democracy, and since our country's founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. has thrived under a government of the people for the people by the people - a government that governs with the consent of its citizens who make informed decisions thanks in part to the information they find within the pages of a newspaper.

In recent years, an argument has been made that public notices would be better publicized on the Internet. Although, the Internet is a good communication tool, public notices buried on government web sites cannot replace the convenience, reliability and credibility of a newspaper delivered to your home each week. The publication of public notices in local newspapers ensures that local citizens will see the information. To quote the Newspaper Association Managers (NAM) organization, "the permanence, stability and independent verification offered by publication of public notices in newspapers ensure citizens have access to bonafide, trusted information about the business of government."

It's also important to note that publishing notices in the newspaper reaches an audience that cares most about what's going on with their government. According to a recent Pulse Research survey conducted for the Missouri Press Association, 67 percent of newspaper readers voted in the last election. Newspaper readers are involved in the community and subscribe to make sure they know what's going on with their city council, their school board and their county commission. Public notices are an important part of government disclosure and these notices can only be found in your local newspaper.

As this year's National Newspaper Week claims, "Public notices in newspapers . . . Because good government depends on it."

Editor's Note: It wouldn't be National Newspaper Week if I did not point out the extraordinary work the Cassville Democrat staff does to publish this newspaper each week. The staff box appears at the right of this editorial. Each person listed is an integral part of our newspaper team. The Cassville Democrat staff is committed to excellence and takes pride in publishing a high quality newspaper week in and week out. I hope when you see a member of our staff you'll compliment them on a job well done.