In 1789, the Acts of the First Session of the Congress required all bills, orders, resolutions and congressional votes be published in at least three publicly available newspapers. The purpose of public notice is to display information in places where the public is likely to come into notice.
Transparency is crucial for our school boards, city councils, townships and counties. In the past 20+ years our family has owned and operated local papers serving Polk and Burnett counties, our staffs have written thousands of stories on local government.
Community newspapers and journalists have held cities, school boards, township councils and local governments accountable more than any other entity. This does not always mean the elected officials are bad individuals. Most of them work hard to serve our communities, but they need to be accountable for their actions and spending of public dollars.
They need questions from a journalist following up on issues. They also need to know their local paper is watching and the public can write letters and question these entities through the paper.
Last week, the Wisconsin Senate passed a measure that would allow governments to stop publishing minutes of their meetings in newspapers. Senate Bill 55, which passed the senate on a mainly party line vote Feb. 16, would allow governments to post their minutes on their own websites instead of buying public notice advertising in the newspaper. It hit so fast it feels like it is trying to be slipped through with current State Senator Rob Stafsholt supporting the measure.
Our readers should find it fascinating that these individuals who fight so hard to hold our schools and local government accountable now support the removal of such a small budgeted item that would allow City Hall to operate without additional checks and balances.
When our founding fathers required these notices to be published in three newspapers and today they are down to summaries, the public should be concerned.
The state of Wisconsin sets the rate for legal notices. Can you imagine roadwork or bridge construction being based on linear footage? The public notice rates are low and a small part of our revenue as a newspaper.
Public notices are just that; a way to keep the public informed. Allowing a city to produce its own public notices is like the old adage “a fox guarding the hen house.”
We know the Internet is not a safe and stable place for these notices. We’ve all experienced a website 404 error or clicked on an agenda with a broken links. Or, even worse, when a city official changed the information without notice.
Whenever a public meeting is broadcast live via a cable station, Internet, or other entity it doesn’t mean conversations weren’t happening before or after the meeting ended. We have firsthand accounts of this I personally witnessed. Newspaper reporters are often the only consistent outside person at meetings.
Now is the time to protect your rights to know and call your state officials: Rob Stafsholt and Gae Magnafici and vote down bill SB55.