Herald-Journal
Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 15, 2001

Just fork over the $$$, don't ask questions

By LYNDA JENSEN

Sound like a mugger or a bank robber?

No. A white collar criminal?

Close, but guess again.

It's the attitude of someone who does not believe in the public's right to know - whether it is those who would rather limit the publishing of public notices, down to secretive city councils, who would rather you not ask too many questions about what they do with your money.

As an editor, I can assure you that although a lot of leads come from word of mouth, but when it comes to government, reporters are dead in the water without the public notices.

Without public notices, reporters would be left with no basic facts to work from - not even a time, date or place of what might have happened.

In fact, if you think about it, all the great newspapers like the New York Times, really start where this little newspaper does for evidence of something irregular - the bare bones and sometimes rather un-detailed accounts of what the city, school, and commissioners do with our tax money.

Is it too much to ask for a relatively brief summary of decisions made with public money? Would a private business expect anything less from its accounting and management offices? Of course not.

You don't read them, you say? Well, I do. I represent more than 1,000 people in Howard Lake and Waverly combined. And what slips by the other 999 people, may catch my eye, and eventually catch yours - when it gets written on the front page because of something improper or unethical.

Besides, those who say that the public notices are boring are probably also those who don't bother to vote or take part in our democracy, which is something the Chinese people wish for right now.

I also had someone tell me once that the public notices are never read, so we should scale them back to posting them on a billboard in town (this was by a county auditor in South Dakota who was mad at me for reporting about her auctioneer husband, who was imprisoned for fraud).

That's a lot like saying that we don't need a fire department except once in a while, and therefore it is a waste of money to invest in it.

Aside from this, I can't think of a dumber idea than to force people in our busy, hectic society to drive to a certain point and make them read the notices. They never would.

The fact of the matter is that public notices need to be easily accessible to enough people who are in positions to do something about the information in them.

I know several people who read the public notices and have found the value of being fully informed of what is going on, even before the newpaper prints what is going to happen.

Keep in mind we find out about the abuse of public office ONLY through the press. Don't take newspapers for granted just because of a few faults or some bad apples. We are human beings, after all.

However, let's never forget: full, free access to governmental records - whether they are written or electronically stored - is essential to our democracy, not optional.


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