Vital flow of information is threatened

Once a year, all local governments in Iowa are required to publish a public notice in a newspaper listing the salaries of every one of their employees.

Anyone who thinks public notices aren’t important or aren’t read by the average Iowan should visit their local coffee shop the day that particular item is published. Chances are good that some of the conversation in that shop will be about the salaries of public employees.

But those salary lists are far from the only thing that local governments are required to publish as public notices. Vital information about budgets, tax levies, property auctions and public hearings are among the materials that local governments must publish in general circulation newspapers within their communities.

Having access to that material in their local newspaper is essential if Iowans are to remain well-informed members of their communities and participants in democracy at the local level.

Public notices in the newspaper let everyone know what is happening that might affect them.

However, access to that vital flow of information is now threatened by a bill in the Iowa Senate. Senate File 158 would allow local governments to avoid placing public notices in newspapers if they post the material on their websites.

We believe this is a bad idea.

By publishing public notices in newspapers, information is transferred from the local government to its citizens.

Posting that information on a government website keeps it under the control of that government. While we believe that Iowa’s public officials are upstanding, leaving that information under the control of a government through its website requires one to believe that no official would ever be tempted to cheat or fudge some data.

We believe that a public notice posted only on a government website really isn’t a public notice.

The best way to keep the flow of information coming unimpeded to Iowa citizens is to stick with the current system.

As President Abraham Lincoln once said, ”Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.”

In that spirit, the Times-Republican urges Iowa’s lawmakers to reject Senate File 158 and stick with the proven method of providing information to citizens through public notices published in their newspapers.