The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 26, 2022 1:00 am


On notices

Public best served through newspaper notifications

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

Hoosiers support the right to know what elected officials at all levels are up to, but some Indiana lawmakers seem intent on undermining government transparency.

Bills pulling public notices out of newspapers – where they belong – have been introduced year after year in the General Assembly. Most legislators have rejected these proposals, but it hasn't stopped their colleagues from trying to hide information that should be easily found.

This year's effort, Senate Bill 283, includes a provision allowing the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to publish notice of a bond issue for surface coal mining on the DNR website instead of in a local newspaper.

The problem is obvious: Few people ever log on to the DNR web page. But millions of Hoosiers read print newspapers or their web versions online. They're widely read because they publish the news of the day, crime reports, personality profiles, puzzles and other information, including public notices.

Proponents of SB 283 say it's too expensive for public notices to be printed in newspapers. But public notices are a fraction of what governments spend each year.

Elkhart County, as an example, spent 0.13% of its budget on public notices in 2020. Goshen, the Elkhart County seat, spent 0.01%.

Though the cost of publishing a legal notice in a newspaper is modest, the cost of not doing so would be high for Hoosiers who want to know which homes are a part of a sheriff's sale, how their child's public school performed or what a city is paying its police officers.

Dating back to colonial times, public notices in newspapers have informed Americans about the activities of their governments, and still do.

In a piece supporting public notices in 2019, the Nieman Foundation found a 99-year-old woman in Carmel, California, who stopped the bank from foreclosing on her home after someone read the notice in the local newspaper and shared it with her grandchildren.

After reading a county financial report in the Ottumwa Courier, an Iowa pharmacist learned a national pharmacy chain overcharged by five times the price of medicines it supplied the county jail, the Nieman Foundation wrote. The pharmacist complained and eventually secured the jail contract instead.

If Indiana governmental entities are allowed to post public notices on their own websites, “it would be the classic example of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Richard Karpel, executive director of the Public Notice Resource Center.

And it would be difficult to keep tabs on governmental entities if one can't find basic information on where and when they are scheduled to meet or the annual budgets they will debate.

State lawmakers must keep public notices in Indiana newspapers. Such a requirement puts information – like where a new strip mining operation will be located – where Hoosiers know to find it: the community newspaper. 

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