The legislative committee that made the decision last week to recommend removing public notification requirements from local governments was wrong.
If the bill passes the full Legislature next month, in the name of saving money, the impact of not requiring municipal and county government minutes to be published in newspapers premises will be more damaging than continuing to pay the greatly reduced price keep the “legal notices” in the newspapers.
Public notices are important to both government and voters. In fact, transparency and good communication in local government has never been more important in Wyoming than it is today, when tens and tens of millions of dollars in public spending must be eliminated.
This is the time when leaders should do their best to embody responsible and open government by making sure citizens know what is being done, how and why, regarding these unprecedented cuts.
Promising to post the meeting minutes on government websites does not set that example. It has the opposite effect.
Failure to publish legal texts will be universally seen as a fallback to secrecy and closed government, and the crucial element of public trust of having an independent external partner to release the information will be missing.
The public notices that appear now would be posted not only on one government website, but at least five different websites.
The publication doesn’t cost a lot of money, and the savings border on insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
The real cost will be seen by a less informed public, a more suspicious public, a less reliable county, less reliable towns and villages, and the continued erosion of the vital public accountability that local governments should prioritize, not an inferior.
And it is undeniable that newspapers will be harmed. Other, smaller newspapers, however, are likely to go bankrupt without their county and municipality public notice.
There is no other way to tell. This bill is a job killer.
It is also a voluntary leap towards bad government. They vote to make themselves less responsible. Bad, bad idea.
We’ve tried not to conclude that local officials who don’t like independent media coverage are doing so because it now means they will receive less, but judging by some of the remarks from these local officials, it seems fine. that there is something other than simple financial savings at stake here.
It is not yet law, but nearly every member of the committee who was fortunate enough to remove the public notice voted to do so, including State Senator Cale Case of Lander and State Senator Tara Nethercott, now of Cheyenne but formerly Riverton, where she actually worked in The Ranger’s advertising department and personally benefited from the presence of public notices.
There are many other ideas for saving half a million dollars, but some now believe that it is possible to reduce the government’s liability and be able to justify it on behalf of the economy.
This is a mistake, a bad one, and we believe governments and citizens will regret it eventually.
Steven R. Peck, editor