This week is Public Notice Week across Tennessee, and lest you think that is just a celebration for people who work in the newspaper business, let’s remember who the public is in “public notice.”
The proven, most effective way to communicate important matters to the community has always been through news media, because in this country we enjoy a free press, thanks to our Founding Fathers. They understood that if the flow of information is controlled by the government, citizens could only be assured of hearing what the government in charge at that moment wanted them to hear.
That tension continues to this day on multiple levels. Over the past few years, certain members of the Tennessee General Assembly sought to end the legal requirement for publication of public notices in newspapers around the state. The reason given: that the cost to government of taking out advertisements for the purpose of notifying the public — of hearings, foreclosure proceedings, permits, easements and the like — was onerous.
There were two problems with this argument: one, that supporters of this initiative have never shown the cost of legal notices to be more than a tiny fraction of a government agency’s budget. The other problem is that removing the notice requirement from government or quasi-governmental entities would in fact damage their credibility in the eyes of the public.
No, whenever someone tries to filter information that the general public has a right to know, you expect that someone personally is benefiting from keeping things under wraps.
To their credit, legislative leaders last year worked with Tennessee newspapers on a new law that preserves the public notice requirement while adding other ways for the public to see the notices.
Beginning April 1, Tennessee newspapers that print public notices also will post the notices on their website and upload them to a statewide aggregate website, www.tnpublicnotice.com, at no additional charge. Notices will be made easier to find online with links on the website home pages.
The more the public knows, the stronger our democracy and our individual liberties.
– The Tennessean