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Public notices are a critical part of civic transparency

MDDC members stand for transparency in government actions.  Public notices are key to transparency, along with FOIA and Open Meetings laws because they prevent official actions from occurring in secret.  Public notices serve to make the wider public aware of actions that may affect or interest them.

The government should not be the sole provider of information about its activities, no matter the publication format.  Neutral, third party notice creates independence for government where they have a stake in the results of the notice.  For example, just as the courts wouldn’t accept Wells Fargo being solely responsible for giving notice of foreclosure proceedings to property owners, since they are a party to the case and have a financial interest in its outcome, taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to rely on notice about a meeting to raise property taxes from a local government’s website.  In that instance, the local government is a is a conflicted party as it stands to either gain or lose based on the meeting outcome. 

News media has been a partner with government in sharing notices for hundreds of years. The “gold standard” of public notice requires that notices are:

  • Published independently of the government entity or organization they concern.  An independent and neutral third party has an economic and civic interest in ensuring that the notice delivery requirements are followed.
  • Published in print and online.  MDDC members publish notices in print AND online on their websites.
  • In a readable and accessible format.  Readers see public notices in the context of other news and information they look for in news publications.
  • Archivable to provide proof of publication.  Newspapers additionally provide an affidavit of publication if requested.
  • Verifiable. The public must be able to verify that the public notice was not altered once published. In a newspaper notice, an affidavit is provided by the publisher, which can be used in an evidentiary proceeding to demonstrate that a true copy was published as well as the exact wording that was used

Public notices are meant to be seen by the widest possible cross-section of a community, and government has the responsibility to make strong efforts to reach citizens.  Government websites have a fraction of the audience of newspapers and their websites.  Further, this bill would force community residents to consistently navigate a large number of websites to find the information that is easily available in their local newspaper. 

Public notices are required to be published in newspapers of general circulation because these venues (now both print and online) are independent of government and reach the largest number of people in the community, while offering an easily archivable and verifiable outlet to make sure the notice was published when and how it was intended.  Further, newspapers display notices in the context of other news and information that people in the community read.  Newspapers and their associated websites are the appropriate forums for notices that affect citizens and the general public

Read more about the importance of public notice to civic transparency in this booklet prepared by the Public Notice Resource Center, a nationally-recognized non-profit organization dedicated to more effective public notice and educating the public on its right to know.

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