A person’s No. 1 source of local news is still the newspaper. Residents pick up the Sedona Red Rock News to read about the latest happenings, find feature stories on people they know, follow high school sports and browse public notices.
Public notices printed allow people to keeps tabs on local government.
Long before transparency was the catch phrase of government watchdogs, Arizona newspapers have been the primary fighters in the battle to keep government records open to citizens. In the last few years, the transparency fight moved to protecting the public’s right to know by keeping public notices in newspapers.
Legals in the Sedona Red Rock News include notices on upcoming public hearings, proposed tax increases, ordinance changes, zoning changes, budget proposals, school district information and many other important government actions and information that impact people’s rights and lives every day. Arizona governments from the state legislature down to counties, cities, towns, fire districts and school boards are required by Arizona state law to publish these legals in newspapers.
Importantly, newspapers do this while providing independent, third-party verification information is actually being made available to the public.
Arizona State Legislature has attempted a few times to introduce legislation to set up a state-run public notice website, but — to no one-surprise — proposed costs to taxpayers for the computer programmers, website designers, server maintenance and administration ballooned to a millions dollars before legislators realized the absurdity of having a government agency duplicate what newspapers do already at a fraction of the cost to themselves and to the government agencies that are required by state law to publish public notices in official “newspapers of record” which include both Sedona Red Rock News and The Camp Verde Journal, published by family-owned, Sedona-based Larson Newspapers.
Arizona newspapers already publish public notices in their print editions and on a centralized statewide website — www.arizonapublicnotices.com — a database of all public notices published in newspapers across the state since 1998.
Local newspaper websites are the most popular and most commonly viewed websites in their local communities. Also, the free statewide website regularly receives nearly 4 million hits a year. Simply put, the current system is working well.
Moreover, government has no business taking over a function currently being performed very well and cost-effectively by Arizona’s newspapers — thus taking private jobs and giving them to government — especially during tough economic times.
There are four elements that mark a valid public notice under Arizona state law:
- The notice must be published by an independent party.
- The notice must be capable of being archived.
- The publication must be accessible.
- The publication must be verifiable.
If any one of these elements is absent, the notice simply cannot be properly authenticated and is subject to challenge. If a state-run website goes down due to government ineptitude, hack or systemic failure, those records are inaccessible and perhaps lost forever, which affects courts, counties, towns, cities, businesses, nonprofits and when a person dies, executors of personal estates are also required to notify heirs, debtors and creditors, so a computer collapse would affect millions of Arizonans, rich and poor.
Conversely public notices in newspapers of record are accessible in hardcopy format at libraries all over the state, include the Sedona Public Library, where you can check on any public record published in our newspaper going back decades.
The public must also be able to verify the notice was not altered once published. Websites are commonly hacked, go down for various reasons and website content can be changed. Websites are fallible in a way print is not.
When published, a legal affidavit is provided by the newspaper, which can be used as independent, third-party verification that the notice was made and proof of the true copy and exact text. Simply put, public notices in newspapers can’t be falsified.
The amount of money government spends on these notices is a very small part of the overall budget for cities, towns and counties. In almost all cases, governments spends less than one-half of 1% of their budgets on this legally required and valuable service. In Sedona, with its $105 million budget, that is 0.01%.
Public notices keep governments and government officials honest because they’re legally required to disclose a host of public records in a public forum that can’t be tampered with.
Folks who suggest hiding notices on government or third-party websites are those with something they want to hide, be it shady land deals, attempts to influence officials or hide business transactions from federal or state investigators or prosecutors. Be wary when anyone wants to hide this legally required public material from scrutiny: From you, dear readers, citizens and taxpayers. Democracy dies in darkness, the saying goes.
We’ll keep publishing public notices for you to read and pour over so that you’re informed about your governments and do so efficiently, cheaply, effectively. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Christopher Fox Graham