Corner Column

By Phil Major
Posted 4/15/21

Do you read the public notices? It’s OK to admit if you don’t, but you could be missing out on some important information.

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Corner Column


Let’s talk about public notices.

When local residents learned that a concrete batch plant was proposed near the entrance to the Mineola Nature Preserve, a hue and cry went up opposing this action.

How did local citizens learn about the proposal?

Through a required public notice published in the local paper.

Do you read the public notices? It’s OK to admit if you don’t, but you could be missing out on some important information.

Like something happening on the property next door. Maybe it’s not a concrete batch plant, but it could be a taller sign for a business or a different type of residential structure than what you might be accustomed. Or it could be sold at a tax sale.

Notices are also posted each year showing what property tax rate is proposed for cities, school districts, counties and other entities. Other notices alert you to budget hearings where you can learn how that money will be spent and speak your mind if you disagree.

They alert you to when the next election will be and how to participate.

And these notices are published because they are required by state law, not because of the altruism of those in charge of government entities.

Laws requiring certain notices have been eroding for years, thanks to state legislators who don’t understand that the public’s business is still the public’s business. It is our money they’re spending, after all.

It is a battle for the state press association every time the legislature meets to fight off this erosion.

You may not believe this, but there are those in government who would like to “hide” certain things from you, the taxpayer.

One particularly egregious bill in the works now would create a statewide website for notices. Now isn’t that something you will look up every week to see what might be going on in your community? At the end of your busy day, I’m sure that will be at the top of your list to do when you get home.

In addition to putting notices in places where they most likely won’t be found, your tax dollars will pay to set up and maintain this site. And there’s no guarantee how user-friendly it might be.

And what about folks who still lack internet access? As school districts discovered when trying to educate kids remotely when they were forced to close campuses, that’s a real problem. Some might even call it discriminatory.

And perhaps the most important reason to maintain public notices in newspapers rather than a government-operated website? How comfortable do you feel with the fox guarding the hen house? Newspapers serve as a third-party watchdog, independent of the entities posting the notices.

Who’s to say a hacker bent on destruction or a rogue government employee couldn’t or wouldn’t alter a notice? Or “accidentally” delete one.

By having them published independently, they are carved in stone, so to speak – a historical record that cannot be altered or denied.

Because of this one required notice, local citizens had a fighting chance, and late Monday we received word that the plant owners would seek a new location.