Public notices — the legal notices that governmental entities pay to place in newspapers as a means of informing the public — have played an important role in informing citizens about the actions of their government for more than 200 years.
Nearly every year, almost like clockwork, someone in the Colorado Legislature proposes a bill to end the requirement that governmental agencies publish such notices in newspapers. This year, Senate Bill 156 would eliminate the requirement that counties’ financial information be published.
For decades, those bills have been defeated, mostly through the hard work of newspapers and other advocates for public access to information, but there’s no stopping the onslaught, for two reasons. First, a cost is associated with purchasing that advertising. When budgets are tight, governments, usually counties, propose that posting the notices on their own websites will be less expensive and equally effective.
The second reason is one that deserves more attention than it receives: Some government officials would prefer citizens not to have easy access to such information.
Newspapers and their websites remain much more effective at making information easily available to citizens. They are far more widely read than county websites, especially in rural areas where, it should be noted, access to the Internet isn’t universal.
For citizens who prefer to read online, all legal newspapers in the state post their public notices to an aggregated website, PublicNoticeColorado.com, at no additional cost. That’s one-stop research, for example, for companies that bid on government contracts.
Newspapers simply provide greater access, and it’s done very affordably. Newspapers’ rates for public notices are governed by statute and have not changed since 1993.
They also publish government notices in a verifiable way. Because of longstanding legislation, publishing such information — the best way of making it available to the public — is legally required, and newspapers provide documentation so both governments and constituents can verify that it’s been done as required.
At a time when public confidence in government is low, that’s an essential service that builds trust. Newspapers provide a permanent physical record, accessible even when websites change or hackers attack.
The more important point to consider is the very real cost incurred by not making public notices as widely available as possible. That hampers public participation in government — and that restriction is antithetical to our American political system. Not a single one of our checks and balances should be thoughtlessly discarded in service to the budget.
Involving the press in holding governments accountable is an important safeguard built into both American tradition and Colorado law. Like newspaper coverage of government meetings, public notices help constituents know what their elected officials are doing on their behalf.
Contact State Rep. McLachlan to urge a vote against SB 156 and for keeping public notices widely available to the public by keeping them in newspapers.