Saturday, October 25, 2014
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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Keep public notices public

We would assume that our new state Legislature, firmly in control of Republicans who claim to be for the people over government and for private sector solutions over public ones, would cast a skeptical eye on an effort to whittle away at the people's right to know.

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But a bill sponsored by state Rep. Chuck McGrady would effectively reduce the people's access to important public information in the interest of saving local government a little money. McGrady, R-Hendersonville, filed a bill in the state House that would eliminate the current requirement for local government bodies to publish in the local newspapers information on road closings, rezonings, delinquent taxes and other public matters. A gift to the Association of County Commissioners and the League of Municipalities, the measure serves the public interest in no useful way and in fact harms the public interest.
In the service of full disclosure, the Hendersonville Lightning is no neutral observer on the matter. As the upstart startup, we have a financial interest in whether this revenue stream stays or goes. The locally owned and locally operated Lightning publishes public notices and other legal notices such as foreclosures and creditors notices (which would not be affected by this proposal), as do other weekly and daily newspapers throughout North Carolina. Our vested interest, however, does not disqualify us from commenting editorially, especially when the greater public interest parallels our own economic interest.
Public notices amount to a relatively small fraction of the annual spending of cities and counties across the state, yet local government bodies have for years tried to bring their dissemination in-house. McGrady's bill would eliminate the public expenditure at a greater intangible cost that the public would bear. Just having a website does not mean that people visit the website.
It's disappointing, too, that this Legislature, putatively pro-business and pro-jobs, would look seriously at a change in the law statewide that would end one small instance of the government writing a check to business instead of the other way around.
McGrady, who has otherwise proved to be a reliable friend to the community, an independent voice and effective legislator, says that he can find no takers among the local government lobbying corps for a compromise bill that the North Carolina Press Association has offered. The compromise was adopted in Florida, another state controlled by a Republican majority that professes to be pro-business and for private sector solutions.
We hope that Rep. McGrady would be receptive to the compromise bill offered by the NCPA. It continues to serve the public's right to know and it keeps a free press in the business of publicizing important government decisions before they happen.