The cornerstone of our constitutional democratic republic is protecting citizens’ right to full and public notice when their elected officials are discussing or making decisions that could affect everyone’s daily lives. As a non-partisan research taxpayer research institute that focuses on promoting government accountability and transparency, Florida TaxWatch supports the use of public notices in local newspapers of record by government entities to notify citizens of meetings and votes.
In the past, there have been efforts to convert public notices to an online-only government website with the claim that such a move be more efficient. The fact is that reducing options for the public to access public notices would cost taxpayers more money and reduce transparency in the public policy process.
Taxpayers deserve to be notified in advance of critical government votes. Without access to printed or digital notices, citizens would have fewer opportunities to participate in the process and communicate with their elected leaders.
A notice strictly available on government-run websites would eliminate the critical neutrality and independence of a newspaper or other third party. It would be possible, likely even, for government entities to miss notification deadlines, leave out critical information or make changes electronically to items on their websites without public knowledge. When something runs in the newspaper, it is permanently printed and distributed for all to reference and reexamine anytime.
Florida TaxWatch was instrumental in bringing attention to this issue in 2012. Through our recommendations and in conjunction with the Florida Press Association, the Florida Legislature passed legislation that expanded the use of public notices. The legislation – under the leadership of Rep. Ritch Workman - stated that all public notices published in a newspaper must be posted to the newspaper’s website the same day in addition to being posted on www.floridapublicnotices.com. Newspapers are also required to email new notices to anyone who had requested them with no charge. These reforms gave taxpayers an additional avenue to access public notices in addition to the traditional newspaper.
In an effort to promote government transparency and accountability, we ask all government entities to ensure public notices are visible for all citizens to see in newspapers and on websites in advance of government meetings and actions. To make our government works efficiently and responsively, Florida taxpayers deserve to know where and how their money is being spent and where and how important issues are being discussed and enacted. We must remain vigilant in protecting Florida’s nationally recognized system of public notices.
Dominic M. Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, research institute, where he has served for more than three decades.