Public Notice Week set for January 19-25, 2014
Tennessee Press Association has set Public Notice Week for January 19-25, 2014. The following are editorials, cartoons and ads that may be used by member newspapers to promote the importance of public notice. We encourage you to use the materials, and to produce your own editorials, during the designated week and throughout the year. Items from the previous year's kit are also available at the bottom of this page.
Public Notice Week: Something to celebrate
By Frank Gibson, TPA Public Policy Director mug shot
Residents of Mt. Judea, Ark., woke up one morning recently to learn that their small community is about to become host to a hog farm – population 6,503 hogs.
“What really set me off was the fact that it was a done deal by the time we heard about it,” Gordon Watkins, a nearby farmer and president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, told the Arkansas Times in Little Rock.
State and local government officials had already approved the facility and said the public notice of the permit review process was “legally sufficient.” However, the instant replay showed the only notice the state gave was on the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s website. The only recourse left for Mt. Judeans is a lawsuit.
Stories like this abound all over the country, including in the Volunteer State. Despite that, numerous bills have been filed in the state legislature here in recent years to allow city councils and school boards among others to stop placing notices in newspapers and instead put them on their own websites.
Stories like this also prompted newspapers nationwide to create Public Notice Week to bring attention to public notices and how important they are to our democracy. It’s been that way since 1789. Open meetings and records laws as well as public notices allow citizens to know about and participate in their government.
Usually there is little to celebrate because bills to move or eliminate notices are always around. Some may surface yet in 2014, but this year is different. There is something worth celebrating.
Starting April 1, Tennessee newspapers which print public notices also will post them on the newspaper’s local website and upload them to a statewide aggregate website, www.tnpublicnotice.com, operated by the Tennessee Press Association. A majority of TPA’s 121 member newspapers has been doing both for some time.
TPA made a commitment and proposed legislation last year to formalize it. It requires newspapers to do the double posting – triple if you consider print – at no additional charge and provides that newspapers make notices easier to find with special links on their website homepages.
TPA executive director Greg Sherrill said the new law “ensures the best of both worlds.”
“Our leadership realized that an increasing number of our readers choose to receive their news and information from newspaper websites, which are consistently among the most-trafficked sites within any given community,” Sherrill said. “By making sure that notices are also available on these sites, newspapers can make public notices accessible to the widest audience possible. While online notices are convenient for many readers, they lack the security, durability, and ability for archival that the printed notices provide.”
Proposed changes here and elsewhere usually center on arguments that ending the practice of advertising notices will save the government money, but random checks show those expenses rarely exceed one-tenth of 1 percent of the agency’s budget.
Open government advocates question whether moving notices exclusively to government websites, in effect, eliminates public notice because it certainly removes the independent quality.
Government officials everywhere argue that the issue is about newspaper revenue. Newspapers acknowledge the revenue argument, but government officials don’t acknowledge how few people visit their websites. One survey last year showed almost 150 city and county governments didn’t have websites.
Proposals have contained no real standards for government websites. Bills here and in Pennsylvania provided they had to be available only 90 percent of the time. Citizens without computer access could get hard copies of notices at City Hall. Proponents didn’t explain how citizens would know when and where to ask.
Public opinion surveys in other states show that super majorities of taxpayers believe that the independent publication of public notices is worth the expense.
Webster’s defines the word “optimum” as “the point at which the condition, degree or amount of something is the most favorable or advantageous.” The new law and the services it requires newspapers to provide are about as favorable and advantageous as you can get short of a direct notice to every resident.
Opponents of the change, admittedly some newspaper editorial writers, argue that notices should stay in the newspaper where the public already knows where to find them, and some previous proposals here and elsewhere have addressed that issue.
The solution: place an advertisement in the newspaper telling citizens about the government website.
What a novel idea.
Frank Gibson is TPA’s public policy director. He can be reached at 615-202-2685 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2013 Material: Editorials Cartoons Ads Download kit as .zip file
Editorials/Columns: Talking points for developing op-ed pieces talking points
By Frank Gibson, TPA Public Policy Director link to text mug shot
With efforts expected in the legislature again this year to move public notices from newspapers to government-controlled websites, Tennesseans should be concerned about the implications of that change for them and their right to know.
There are obvious reasons why these notices need to be distributed as broadly as possible and delivered by the most independent and reliable source available. Statewide and sometimes obscure local government websites don’t fit the bill.
By Jack McElroy, Knoxville News Sentinel link to text mug shot
In recent years, the General Assembly has considered amending the way public notices are handled in Tennessee. This is understandable. The communications world is changing, and newspapers, where many public notices historically have been published, are in transition.
But the assumption that government could save money and still adequately notify the public by simply posting notices on government websites is flawed.
By Ted Rayburn, Editorial Page Editor, The Tennessean link to text
With the legislature dramatically reducing the number of bills members can file this year, it will be easier than usual to make a list of the bad bills of recent years that should not be resurrected during the 108th General Assembly.
Making the wearing of motorcycle helmets optional would be on that list. So should bills that propose to change or eliminate public notices.
By Henry Stokes, retired associate publisher of The Commercial Appeal link to text mug shot
The essence of your freedom is that in America, very little government happens by decree. Most every action is open to democratic debate.
Question is: Will that debate occur before or after a decision is made?
On big issues – like, who will be mayor or governor – you have the right as a citizen to vote before an election or issue is decided.
On many other issues, you can’t influence a decision unless you find out about it before hand.
That’s where public notices protect your rights.
By Bill Williams, The Paris Post-Intelligencer Link to text mug shot
Democracy is not for everybody. We’ve learned that in the Middle East, where societies with ancient tribal roots are shown to be unprepared for a government system in which the majority rules by public vote.
Government of the people, by the people and for the people can work only if the people are informed. An electorate that does not know or understand what government is all about is an invitation to despotism.
By Jim Zachary, Tennessee Transparency Project link to text mug shot
Any battle to remove required government public notices from newspapers is an assault on government transparency.
Compromising government transparency is a full-out assault on the citizens of Tennessee.
Government belongs to the governed, not the governing.
Link for Charlie Daniel cartoon for 2013
Special thanks to Charlie Daniel, Knoxville News Sentinel, for providing a cartoon again this year!
Links to Clay Bennett cartoon color BW
Special thanks to Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press, for providing a cartoon again this year!
Special thanks to Karen Geary, The Paris Post-Intelligencer for desiging these ads!
Download color or B/W Download color or B/W Download color or B/W
Download color or B/W Download color or B/W
Remember the Good Ol' Days... Color Public Notice is hereby given... Color Black&White
Cartoon courtesy of Charlie Daniel, News Sentinel, Knoxville Cartoon courtesy of Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
From the 2011 Kit Color
Black/White From the 2011 Kit Notice the Difference cartoons Color Black/White
Cartoons are courtesy of Charlie Daniel, News Sentinel, Knoxville
From the 2011 Kit Link to Public Notice by Government Color
Cartoon is courtesy of Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
link to ads This series of Public Notice Ads reinforces the importance of printed notice
The following public notice ads were adapted by Chattanooga Times Free Press from concept ads created by Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association, and are available for all TPA members to use. All ads are half page ads.
link to "Hadn't you heard?"
Link to Get Involved ad series Link to Bad Idea ad Link to Fox Hen House ad Link to America Noticed! ads