January 25, 2011
Legislature could make info less accessible
Once again, the state Legislature is messing with the public’s easy access to local government’s basic functions. Senate Bill 5360 and House Bill 1478 will give cities and counties in Washington state the option to place required government notices on their websites instead of publishing in a newspaper of record.
Yes, the move would save money for cities, but at a far greater cost to the public. Instead of having the notices of new ordinances, zoning changes, public hearings, tax rates, road closures and much more come along with your newspaper, you will need to go to each local agency’s website. In Issaquah, that might mean websites for the city, the county, fire districts, water and sewer district, Port of Seattle and the school district.
The Issaquah Press publishes the legal notices for many of those agencies now. And we publish them online at www.issaquahpress.com and at a statewide website for aggregated public notices. We do charge for publishing in the newspaper, but not for the online publications. Once published, we provide notarized affidavits as proof of publication.
This is not just a money issue — we all want government to be as lean as possible. This is bad public policy. The citizens of Washington have voted repeatedly for an open government, and keeping us informed of what our government employees and elected officials are doing is a paramount part of their job.
It might seem like filler in the paper (page B8-B9 in today’s issue), but 53 percent of our readers say they read legal notices regularly, according to a 2009 survey conducted by Pulse Research. Furthermore, 86 percent of respondents to the survey agree that agencies should be required to publish legal notices in the newspaper. Those survey results were similar across the state.
Moving legal notices to online publication is yet another threat to the viability of newspapers, but it is also an enormous step backward for government accountability. The small savings for government agencies has a huge downside for citizens who need and want to know where their tax dollars are going and what decisions are being made that will impact their lives.
Let your state representative — http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder — know that they have a lot more important things to deal with than reducing your access to government actions.