The latest fad among politicians is to dream up rosy-sounding labels to stick on decidedly negative actions. Easier to slip bad governing by an inattentive public.
Liken this trend to putting a smiley face in place of the skull and crossbones on a bottle of rat poison. The label may look friendly but the contents aren’t good for you.
Truth-in-labeling would surely help when examining a legislative proposal from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
All they say they want is to “add flexibility” to the requirement to post public notices so they can be placed on county government Web sites. Flexibility sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? We all need to be flexible. Flexibility gives us more options to get done what needs getting done.
The revealing key here is there is absolutely nothing stopping county officials from posting public notices on their Web sites now. If this is such a good idea, why aren’t more already doing it? As usual, what these politicians really want is not to give greater access to information — but less.
Some county officials, unfortunately, would rather the public not know about their actions. In this case “flexibility” is actually sleight-of-hand to take away your public notice of government actions from their usual place in the newspaper and allowing them to appear on some obscure government Web site. It’s all about saving money, they say.
But that’s not true.
Maintaining web sites is not free. The ACCG proposal could cost local governments even more. Saving money is not what this is about. It’s about hiding what politicians do with your money. It’s about diffusing criticism. Less accountability.
Government officials, sadly, have proven over and over they simply cannot be trusted to police themselves. They cannot be allowed to control the flow of information. Freedom won’t allow it. We can’t afford public notices? Poor Egyptians, existing on an average of $2 per day, don’t think freedom of information is too expensive. Many of them have just given their lives to have information.
Eliminate independent posting of public notice? Next thing, politicians will want to eliminate independent auditors, too. After all, governments have accountants, don’t they?
Government uses vendors to do things it can’t, or shouldn’t, handle itself. Like auditors. Public notices are no different.
Governments pay vendors every day to provide services and newspapers earn the relatively few dollars we get for providing the necessary service of making sure you know what is happening with your taxes. Government’s primary function isn’t communication and they don’t do it very well or reliably.
Examples of what to expect aren’t hard to find. The “CommunityWelcomePage” at our own county government’s Web site, one place where ACCG wants us to go to learn what county government is doing with our money, gives only a flicker when clicked the past several weeks. (By the time you read this, the webmaster may have read this, too, and have it repaired.) Our county really has one of the better small community Web sites. It is maintained and kept up to date far better than many. Still, broken links happen.
Our newspaper hasn’t had a broken link keep us from communicating vital information with you each week for nearly 150 years. A University of Missouri study recently found an overwhelming majority of people look to their community newspaper for local government information.
The point is, Internet Web sites are a worthy complement to public notice, but lousy as a sole source. Web sites offer tremendous opportunities to glean information — if you have access, if they work properly and if you can find the right one.
That’s too many “if’s” to bet on for access to critical information. Posting notices on Web sites, on bulletin boards, posting them almost anywhere is a good idea. The more the merrier. You can’t have too much access.
But eliminating the only independent, most reliable, source for what politicians are doing with your money isn’t a better solution.
• Robert Williams, an Effingham County native, is editor and publisher of The Blackshear Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.