Editorial: Keep public notices public
April 7, 2011
Like a bad penny, a proposal to "save money" at the expense of government transparency has turned up again in Tallahassee.
House Bill HB 89 concerns Public Notices requirements and proposes yet again to allow government entities to "use its publicly accessible website for legally required notices & advertisements."
The House bill is currently under consideration in the Government Operations Subcommittee and, while the panel did not vote on the measure on Friday due to time constraints, it is expected to come up for consideration this week.
The bill, and its identical companion in the Senate, SB 914, is a bad proposal for a number of reasons.
• In a state known as a retirement mecca, Web-only notices would deny most residents over 65 access to meeting and other legal notices as more than 55 percent of those in that age demographic do not have internet access.
• In a state known for its growing diversity, Web-only notices would deny access to meeting and other legal notices to minority residents as an estimated one-third of residents in that demographic do not have internet access.
• For the rest of us, notices would no longer be available with our morning coffee or after-work respite. Not only would we have to navigate on-line sites, we would have to wend our way through multiple sites as each agency would have the ability to post to their own address. (Currently, most newspapers, including the Island Reporter, provide one-stop shopping for all published legal ads at floridapublicnotices.com/ for those who choose to read on-line.)
If you think newspapers have an agenda here, we do. That agenda is two fold:
We freely admit legal advertising is a revenue source. If legal ads go away, newspapers will take another hit in a still-struggling economy but we will do what we have done thus far: find alternative revenue sources and adjust our business models, routine private enterprise adaptations.
The second part of that agenda is our primary reason in opposition to this bad legislation. We, like virtually every newspaper across the state, avow a strong commitment to Government in the Sunshine - open meetings, access to public records, and ease in attaining both.
Taxpayers have a right — an absolute right — to know when its elected and appointed boards are meeting, when they are planning changes that affect our property values and use of the land that we own, and when they are considering enactments affecting our pocketbooks.
We firmly believe that information should be easily accessible and readily available where the public is used to reading it. Ease of access is a primary reason Breeze Newspapers reprints all city legal advertising free in the Saturday Breeze.
For those who may be willing to trade cost savings for access, we say show us the money.
As the current budget crises at every level of government so aptly illustrates, public employees and public departments do not come cheap. There is no guarantee that this initiative will not convert private sector jobs into public sector positions with the resulting cost to be borne by the taxpayers multiple times over multiple agencies.
Florida TaxWatch is, in fact, opposed to this bad legislation for many of the same reasons stated above.
The research institute also does not see any cost savings.
"The fact of the matter is that online-only public notices would likely cost taxpayers more money," said Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch in a prepared column on the matter. "Taxpayers could be significantly harmed financially by online-only notifications of upcoming votes, tax increases and other expensive policies that could potentially fly under the radar."
Protect your right to know — and your pocketbook. Urge our legislative representatives to again reject this proposal to make us pay for opaque governance:
• Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, District 74
422 The Capitol
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
3501 Del Prado Boulevard
Cape Coral, FL 33904-7223
• Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, District 37
322 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
1039 S.E. 9th Place
Cape Coral, FL 33990
— Reporter editorial