A dangerous precedent
It may seem to some that the message is getting old but to the everyday citizen, the right to know never gets old.
Tuesday, the North Carolina Senate advanced a bill allowing eight counties and the municipalities therein the right to publish their legal notices on government websites and not in newspapers of record.
While Rutherford County was not among the counties exempted under the legislation, the bill sets a dangerous precedent.
It tells the public that it is okay for local government to work under a shroud of secrecy and that the public doesn’t need to know what their elected officials are doing.
It tells the public that it isn’t necessary to know about zoning changes, building projects, annexations or other items that the public has a right to know.
What’s more telling is that items like that can have a direct impact on taxpayers in every city and county in North Carolina.
We’ve talked about the differences between the Internet and newspapers. We’ve talked about rural access to the Internet and how that access is currently limited. We’ve even argued about the public’s right to know its government’s business and how a blending of newspapers and their websites can provide the best outlet for that right to know to be fulfilled.
What we can’t get our head around is why lawmakers are pushing so hard for this legislation?
One argument is cost. Proponents of the bill say that the cost to local governments will be reduced if they are allowed to only post notices on their own websites and not in newspapers.
A compromise bill in the North Carolina House requires newspapers to place notices, not only in print but also on their companion websites — killing two birds with one stone.
How will government pay to maintain those notices in a legal manner? How will governments respond when those requirements are not met? If those questions become reality, there is extra expense forced upon local governments ... meaning taxpayers.
Quite simply, government should not police itself and newspapers — along with their websites — still provide the best option when it comes to the public having access to government business.
By Matthew Clark, for the Editorial Board
The Daily Courier Editorial Board consists of community members Jerry Brewer, Kyle Bingham, Tom Padgett, Dr. Shermaine Surratt and Cliff Strassenburg as well as Editor Matthew Clark.