Dissemination of information to residents through publication of public notices protects the public’s right to know.
Through public notices, units of government inform the public about what they are doing or proposing, which, in turn, helps the public effectively engage in the democratic process. The cost for public notices is minimal to each unit of government, usually less than one-tenth of a percent of the budget.
Legislation that took effect five years ago goes further. The Illinois Legislature unanimously approved a bill requiring newspapers to post all public notices they print on a public, free-access centralized website at no additional cost to government. That website is PublicNoticeIllinois.com.
The system works well. Newspapers disseminate public notices and then certify that governments have complied with public notice laws. The public is served efficiently, in print and online.
However, some people want to change it.
Senate Bill 2032 would allow units of government to bypass publishing notices in local newspapers and, instead, post public notices on their own websites or on a state-run website.
State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, introduced the bill in February; a Senate committee is reviewing it.
Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti is a strong supporter; a task force she headed issued a report in December 2015 that favors the concept of “modernizing public notices.”
Frankly, we are appalled by their cavalier attitude toward public notices and government transparency.
As a respected, independent third party, newspapers reliably transmit this information in print and online. Newspapers for centuries have played a key role in the legal process of public notices by publishing, certifying and archiving them. It’s a long-proven process.
By contrast, government is unreliable.
The Citizens Advocacy Center reviewed Illinois local governments’ track records for posting notices online in three basic areas – public meeting notices, public meeting agendas and approved minutes from public meetings – as required by law through the Open Meetings Act.
Of more than 750 websites surveyed, only 73 percent of governments complied with posting meeting notices, 57 percent complied with posting an agenda, and a mere 48 percent complied with posting approved meeting minutes.
What can the public expect if local governments bypass newspapers and post public notices online?
The same dismal record of noncompliance and lawbreaking.
That would be a terrible blow to transparency.
We are unconvinced that public notices, if placed only on government-controlled websites, would have anything close to the same readership they have now.
Senate Bill 2032 is a radical departure from the proven public notice system that all other states use.
Government inevitably would become less transparent, especially for people who aren’t online.
And the public’s right to know, rather than being protected, would be diminished.
Politicians such as Oberweis and Sanguinetti ought to know better. They should realize that public notices in Illinois were “modernized” more than five years ago through legislation establishing the centralized website.
The bill should be defeated.