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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's Time To Move Public Notices To The Web

During last week's Janesville city council meeting, at least two residents complained about the city's lack of communication and said they were unaware of public meeting and hearing notices regarding an ordinance effecting consignment and resale shops. After their comments, Council Member Tom McDonald offered this statement...

City Council Transcript:
"I'm a little bit concerned with the communication process because we've hearing alot from people who didn't get communication. On the other hand, there was an initial reading and when there was the initial reading of this ordinance, this story was in the newspaper. And then two weeks later it was in the newspaper again, not just as what's going to happen at the council meeting but there was a second story in the newspaper about how it effects consignment shops. And I'm just curious because there were alot of people here tonight, and people seem to communicate with each other tonight, why that didn't happen? Does not one pawn shop, gun shop, second hand dealer follow the newspaper or listen to stories on the radio - when these kind of things come up? Because we hear this, not just specific to this issue but it's other issues that come to the council as well. We get people who after the fact that say "I didn't know this was going to happen." But, we can't mail out the agenda to every single business and every single home in town. So we will look into the communication issue to be sure, but I'm also going to say residents and businesses have the responsibility to pay attention to what's going on in our city and I'll just leave it at that." -- Council Member Tom McDonald

I completely disagree with the direction of McDonald's statement. It is not incumbent upon residents to purchase (read) a newspaper or listen to the radio to find out what city government is up to.

McDonald's statement however did not surprise me at all. In the past he opposed televising city council study sessions on public television because he was worried how it might cut into the Janesville Gazette's ability to monopolize the public meetings for their own interests. He was also responsible for cutting the city's highly informative newsletter. In fact, had it not been for the mandated annual water report, the now once-a-year summer edition newsletter would have also been scrapped. And it was McDonald again who worked on the Gazette's behalf to change the city charter and start council meetings a half-hour earlier so the newspaper could meet their new editing deadlines. With his latest comments, one has to wonder whether McDonald has a vested interest in Bliss Communications and/or whether it's right to use his position on the city council to the newspaper's advantage.

But McDonald's statement brings up a great counter-point for hard-pressed Janesville taxpayers to consider. Everything is now about saving dollars we supposedly don't have. Public meeting and hearing notices published in newspapers cost local governments tens of thousands of dollars a year. What's the point to spending that kind of money when we can simply post and archive them on the city's web site. The same goes for the county's board meetings and foreclosure notices. Many communities are now only beginning to realize a huge cost savings by switching to Web only notices.

Milwaukee News Buzz Excerpt:
Roys argues that the costs of advertising are too great for local governments. “We will have to have a public discussion and decide: Do we want to continue to force local government to spend their scarce resources on printing notices when there are better ways of communicating?”

Why bother with a public discussion? Particularly now that we're living in a state governed by scorched earth budget cuts across the board without debate or negotiation. That's the new leadership. It's pretty much "f!#% you" - we can't afford it. Yet aside from that current intellectual belligerence, there is no reason to continue paying tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars to post notices in newspapers nobody reads. Now is the time to do it.

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