REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Strengthening your right to know what government is doing

You've seen the public notices in our classified section, containing information on upcoming meetings, upcoming legislation before t
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

You've seen the public notices in our classified section, containing information on upcoming meetings, upcoming legislation before this or that city or county board, foreclosures -- anything a local government entity might do that has an effect on all our lives.

Those items have been a bone of contention between local governments and Ohio's newspapers the last few years. Placing those ads costs money -- taxpayer money -- and they represent income for Ohio's newspapers. Naturally, local governments have sought to trim that expense, one that's required by law: Notices of government action and meetings are required to be placed in a newspaper of local record.

This was set up long ago, in the dawning days of Ohio's existence as a state, and was based on the idea that government is best policed by ordinary people who have ready access to information about what government is doing. Leave government to police itself and we get ... well, we've seen what we get.

Out of years of back-and-forth fighting, though, has come a compromise we think will allow governments to save taxpayer money, recognize the emergence of the Internet as a means of public communication while still recognizing most people still get thier local government information from newsprint.

House Bill 220, introduced by state Rep. Kathleen Chandler, D-Kent, and co-sponsored by 11 more legislators including our own state Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, cuts back on the frequency of notices required to be bought for inclusion in newsprint and allows online notice to fulfill at least part of the legal requirement for public notification.

It expands what counts as a newspaper while stopping far short of declaring anyone with a Web site to be a news organization.

The compromise gives local governments more options, expands the number of sources from which you, the taxpayer, can get information about what your government is doing -- while preserving the newsprint option that, once printed, cannot be changed, unlike a Web site that can be edited, and re-edited, with previous versions disappearing beyond the technological savvy of most people to recover.

We can't see any losers in the deal that resulted in HB 220, which replaces hurriedly added language buried in the state budget bill.

We urge State Rep. Mark Wagoner, R-Ottawa Hills, who also represents parts of this area and sits on the Budget Conference Committee that will determine whether this bill or the hurriedly introduced budget language will go forward, to give serious backing to House Bill 220 as the best compromise for all concerned -- local governments, local newspapers and the taxpayers who depend on both.