The Indiana Law Blog has a post highlighting an editorial (note: paywall) from the Marion Chronicle Tribune about how local government should have to publish their budgets on the newspaper because putting them online wasn’t sufficient.
Says the Marion Chronicle-Tribune:
It is stunning how little commitment there seems to be to government transparency in Indiana.
There is apparently a similar effort afoot with tax sales to only publish a short notice telling people what website to visit to see the property description or parcel information.
I couldn’t read the entire editorial because it was behind a pay wall. The newspaper urges caution because electronic notices are malleable and not a permanent record. True enough – but you could surmount that issue without publication by requiring an official hard copy to be filed with the Clerk’s office or Recorder’s office or other repository of official documents. The other argument the newspaper makes is that this is done to make officials’ lives easier by avoiding scrutiny. I’m not sure how that follows if the notices are, in fact, available online. Are the watch dogs who are going to hold public officials accountable the sorts of people who will pore over a newspaper version of the notices but won’t go to a website? I’m skeptical.
Now, maybe the public is more aware of the legal notices in the small print at the back of the newspaper than the notice on a government website. The fact is that publication of legal notices in newspapers is a real expense to taxpayers. And, it’s hard to avoid observing that the newspaper may have a stake in this issue that goes beyond mere public interest. Maybe the part of the editorial that discusses the Marion Chronicle Tribune’s income from legal notices is behind its pay wall. The newspaper is, itself, making a choice between informing the public and its own fiscal interests. So, while the newspaper’s arguments are worth considering, I have a hard time believing the editorial board is actually “stunned” by the General Assembly’s efforts to strike a similar balance.
Rep Jerry Torr has authored HB 1013 which will allow some changes in the types of newspapers that legal notices must be published. During committee testimony, Rep Torr discussed the idea of doing away with legal notices in newspapers and going to an online only format. He did clarify that we’re not quite there yet but that within the next decade or so, we’ll probably go that way.
I would agree with Rep Torr on that point. Maybe the state could create a website with news content…oh wait!