Moving notices to the Internet will hurt public access
April 17, 2013
Bills in front of the Nevada Legislature would move public notices to the Internet, but they wouldn’t help the public get more access. In fact, the public would get less.
We’re all in favor of placing notices on the web — that’s why Nevada newspapers already do so. Many are on the papers’ own sites and on a statewide, searchable site under publicnoticeads.com.
Just plug ‘Nevada public notices’ into Google and you’ll see the Nevada Press Association’s statewide site right at the top.
Nobody disputes that a lot of newspaper readership now occurs online, and that in some places there are fewer papers being delivered to homes. Our argument is that public notices should be in both, because they are intended to be spread as far and wide as possible.
What are public notices? They contain information that, by Nevada law, must be disseminated to residents.
A few examples:
■ A proposed or adopted city or county ordinance
■ Advertisements for bids on public works projects
■ Hearings on zoning regulations and master plans
■ Constitutional amendments and statewide measures
■ Proposed regulations on hunting seasons and bag limits
■ Regulations regarding livestock brand inspections.
You could look these up, because they’re all public records. The reason they’re notices, though, is because they are required to be delivered to you. You shouldn’t have to go searching.
Newspapers have long been the traditional means for delivering these notices. They are targeted to your city and county, provide a tangible copy of the actual notice and can’t be tampered with. This last note is important to anyone worried about the security of the internet.
The three bills — AB4, AB75 and AB267 — have different focuses, but all three would allow governments to use the internet instead of newspapers as a way to reduce costs. In a down economy, they are trying to save money — a worthy goal.
But we say the last place government should be trying to cut is in the openness of government. Many notices have to do with the public keeping an eye on government spending. In the long run, notices save money by making sure that government spending is as transparent as possible.
Also, many notices — zoning and ordinance changes, water rights, tax rates — deal with issues directly affecting how much you may be charged as a taxpayer, or the value of your property. It’s not the government’s money; it’s yours.
We’re not the only ones who believe Nevada residents are best served by having notices appear in both newspapers and online. You do, too.
When the Nevada Press Association asked in a survey of registered Nevada voters where they preferred to see notices, 56 percent said newspapers. Eighteen percent said the Internet. When they were asked whether government should be required to continue to publish notices in newspapers, 87 percent said yes.
We’re not fighting against the publication of notices online. If anything, the Nevada Legislature should require they be on the internet, too. We’re fighting to make sure as many Nevadans as possible see them — not fewer.
Barry Smith is executive director of the Nevada Press Association and former editor of the Nevada Appeal.