From: Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 20, 2016
Every year, members of the General Assembly consider proposals to change state law about public notices, which must be published in the local newspaper of record. Some local governments argue they could save money if they were allowed to post notices on their websites instead.
It’s a bad idea, principally because it would reduce the transparency of local governments and make it harder for citizens to stay informed. Just look at what happened during a recent meeting of a Freedom of Information Act Council subcommittee.
The committee was considering a proposal that would require localities to post public notices on their websites within three days of their final approval. But as the Virginia Coalition for Open Government reports, “local government representatives worried about smaller localities without the ability to quickly or easily access their websites.” Two of the subcommittee members representing Fredericksburg and the attorney general’s office also complained that the requirement would be an unfunded mandate.
The objections are revealing. They suggest that local governments do not mind posting public notices in local newspapers so much as they mind posting public notices, period. They find the process burdensome and costly regardless of the medium — and some will seek to evade the requirement no matter what form it takes.
State lawmakers should sit up and take notice. If they allow localities to publish their own notices, they will hand over control from parties with an interest in public disclosure to the localities with little or no interest in public disclosure. That is a recipe for mischief — and worse.