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Whether or not it’s a trust issue between the public and local government officials, the need for public notices to be published in newspapers remains strong to this day. Issues such as school referenda are just one example of why public notices should remain in newspapers and, subsequently, on their websites.

The legal notice requirements are once again being looked at in the 2011 Legislature — a House bill would allow cities, counties, and school boards to replace print ads for “proceedings, official notices, and summaries” with a single annual notice on their websites in lieu of newspaper publication — as state and local governments face financial challenges and have reason to fight mandates that drive up expense and hinder their flexibility and ability to deliver cost-effective services. But that shouldn’t affect public notices, which are crucial to preserving open government. 

Newspapers continue to be the most reliable venues when it comes to public notices — both in print and on the Internet. Public notices in the paper ensure transparency among local government offices and elected officials, who say publicly they’re advocates of such transparency; they must continue to use newspapers as a vehicle for public notices as opposed to simply publishing them on their own websites, some of which can be obscure and hard to find.

Local officials seek publicity in newspapers for a lot of news and issues when it serves their purposes, so it’s clear that, when it comes to spreading the word, they believe newspapers are very capable — maybe even more so than seldom-used government websites — of getting public notice information to the public where it belongs. Last year, MNA general counsel Mark Anfinson said, the Brainerd Daily Dispatch had more hits to the legal notice part of its website than the total visitors to the entire Crow Wing County website.

The goal of public notices, as it always has been, is to maintain a truly informed citizenry, and newspapers remain the best option of realizing that goal.

— The Marshall Independent