One of our duties here at the newspaper is to publish public notices. We also provide those same notices for free on our website, and every notice printed in a newspaper in Alabama is available at AlabamaPublicNotices.com, an independent, statewide website provided by the Alabama Press Association.
Almost two million printed copies of a newspaper are delivered in all 67 counties of the state each week. The public notice section in each of these papers is where you learn of public hearings, city budgets, public auctions, tax issues, and other important stuff. If someone applies for a permit or rezoning request to build a hotel directly behind your house, you’re likely to learn about it because of a public notice.
Printed public notices are permanent, and they cannot be hacked, omitted or altered, like they could if they were only published online. Legislation has been introduced over the years that would remove the requirement to publish public notice in a newspaper of public record and instead have them only posted on a state-sanctioned public notice website.
Less access means less transparency and accountability. If public notice was no longer required to be published in newspapers and instead located to an obscure government-run website it would make access more difficult for the elderly, the poor and especially the hundreds of thousands of rural Alabamians, who have limited or no access to broadband and are dependent on newspapers for much of their news and public notice.
Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Florence) sponsored the failed legislation this year, claiming his intent was to cut government waste. But at what expense? By removing the newspapers from the process, you eliminate the checks and balances currently provided. Sorrell’s legislation seems to allow for the fox to guard the hen house. And remember: public notices are already available on the Internet.
Private sector notices such as mortgage foreclosures and divorces make up the great majority of notices found in the newspaper. The money that is saved from eliminating the required public notices won’t amount to much of a savings because it is going to cost the state to provide “proof” these notices actually exist. Not to mention the cost to continually educate the public on how to find these notices.
In the 22 years since my father purchased The Montgomery Independent only once has there ever been a cost increase for public notices. That was only after it was discovered we were charging less than it was costing us to publish a few of the standard notices.
Public notices hold our elected officials accountable and keeps citizens informed on what the government is doing. Publishing them in newspapers provides a third-party check to government transparency and maintains a permanent record.
There is a reason it wasn’t left to the government to publish public notices. Let’s ensure it remains that way. Demand more sunshine from our government, not less.