Keep public notices where all can find them

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Government transparency is such a fundamental block of democracy, it’s hard to imagine any American questioning the principle.

An obligation by state law to make government as open as possible compels cities and counties to publish public notices about annexation plans, bond issues, tax rate increases, rezoning proposals and other important issues that affect your community.

So how might you expect a North Carolina legislator to respond to a complaint about a proposed bill that would make that information harder to find?

N.C. Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Waxhaw, answered this way: “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

For a moment or two, the senator gets his wish here. We’re almost speechless.

Tucker has spent much of his energy shepherding (some might say railroading) legislation that would allow some cities and counties to post important public notices on government websites only. He gave the response quoted above last week to a newspaper publisher from Goldsboro who was trying to ask him about the intentions behind the bill.

As the law stands now, local governments must publish their notices in community newspapers – a medium that reaches far more people on a daily basis than any government website is likely to attract.

True, there is a financial interest here for newspapers such as the Rocky Mount Telegram. Legal notices are a small but important part of our revenue stream.

But far more critical is the public’s overall right to know what is happening in its own community.

The key mission of any newspaper and its accompanying website is to inform its readers. That’s why we’re here, and that’s why you read us.

There are many areas and residents in the state who don’t have reliable Internet service or access to computers. Newspapers are their only source for public notices.

A government’s mission is to serve its citizenry – even if Sen. Tucker seems to have that part a bit confused. A municipal website is a nice add-on resource for folks to check from time to time. But it can hardly be expected to stay as timely or as objective as a newspaper staff.

The N.C. Senate is expected to consider Tucker’s bill when it convenes Monday. For the sake of good, open government in every county and town in the state, we hope Tucker’s colleagues will offer a resounding “no.”

The workings of government in a free democracy should be so clear and accessible that they land in your driveway each morning.

Burying them on a muncipal website would be a slap in the face of freedom.

For more information on this subject, please go to our homepage at rockymounttelegram.com and click “Keep Public Notices.” Or you can visit ncpress.com/savepublicnotices/index.html.