Thursday, April 13, 2017 - Updated: 12:30 PMLet’s get this out of the way first: Newspapers do make money from legal advertising. It is one of the things that would be affected by an amendment to Senate Bill 2032 that would allow governments small and large to put notices, agendas or other items that must by law be published online only.
Now, the reality: It is a small fraction of the revenue for most newspapers.
The reason for the opposition to a push by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti is because of the lack of transparency jettisoning such publication requirements would bring to a state that needs more openness, not less.
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Financial reports, bids for services and notices about hearings are some of the most common of these types of items.
Sanguinetti considers these tidbits of behind-the-scenes information unfunded mandates for local government. Again, though, the reality is this is a minuscule part of the cost of keeping government running.
And the savings is not justified by allowing a hodge-podge placement on potentially thousands of websites.
There are several reasons why this amendment would be detrimental.
First, there are more than 6,000 governmental entities across Illinois that are required to publish various information about how taxpayer money is being used or how government is operating. If each is allowed to place these notices on their own websites, that means having to scour thousands of internet pages in search of valuable information.
As it is now, publications in Illinois approved to accept legal advertisements already have a one-stop clearinghouse at publicnoticeillinois.com through which people can view public notices from across the state. This site has served as a tool for transparency since 2008. It offers non-stop access to information about everything from foreclosures to hearings, advertisements for bids, financial reports, ordinances and other government activities legally required to be published.
While publications statewide recognize the growth of technology and the increasing number of people who prefer their information online, they also recognize that online-only notices exclude a large number of people who don’t have easy access to the internet. This is most commonly the elderly, minorities or those in rural locations. Although the numbers of tech-savvy users continues to grow, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show a quarter of the population doesn’t even have internet access. Not every municipality is online, either.
There is also an issue of compliance. Some government websites are filled with information and well-maintained, but too many have been thrown together just to meet state regulations — and are still doing a poor job at it. A study by the Citizens Advocacy Center indicates many of the sites don’t even follow existing laws about what they have to publish online.
The study shows fewer than half of the 750 governmental entity websites in the state put minutes from meetings online — although required. The study found fewer than 60 percent of sites post required agendas of upcoming meetings — also required — and just about three-quarters of the sites provide required notices about meetings — also required.
The stakes shouldn’t be raised when even the basics cannot be met.
Only one state has tried to make a move to do away with printed notices. That was Utah. Two years after the decision, it was repealed because it did not work.
Illinois legislators need to realize there’s a reason no other state allows online-only publication of this crucial information. It comes down to transparency and serving the people who deserve to keep tabs on what their government is doing.
Editorial is courtesy of the
Jacksonville Courier News.
Editor’s Note: The City of Metropolis maintains an up-to-date website including meeting agendas and meeting minutes. The Massac County Government does not have a website to view public notices. All meeting agendas are posted on the doors of the Massac County Courthouse each week.