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 taxpayers’ daily lives.
As a nonpartisan government watchdog and 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 all of their citizens of meetings and votes. Unfortunately, current proposed legislation would allow municipality websites to be the only required source for public notice posting.
Overall, the changes put forth in the proposed legislation mean that local newspapers would no longer be required to house and circulate public notices, thus causing Floridians to be less informed about current government issues.
Since newspapers and their websites possess a larger audience due to a wealth of information across a breadth of issues, the fact that these media outlets would no longer be required to house public notices results in less written information provided to the people. A recent scientific poll by Mason Dixon shows that Florida citizens overwhelmingly want wider access to the public notice information, as 83 percent of respondents want local governments to carry public notices in newspapers, and 82 percent said they would not seek out information on government websites.
In addition, the proposed legislation shifts delivering public-notice information from an active to a passive stance. Newspapers reach out to their audience through intentional delivery, also offering accessibility to those without the means to an internet connection. 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.
Here at Florida TaxWatch, we regard transparency as being of paramount importance when it comes to the state and local governments’ interactions with their citizens.
In order for residents to trust and hold their government accountable, taxpayers should be entitled to an unabridged and open flow of information concerning public notices in their communities. They should not be beholden by government websites to provide residents with critically important and timely information. This is why Florida TaxWatch promoted policies that expanded the use and access to public notice information through newspapers, their websites, and even email to residents who requested updated notices.
With the newspapers providing third-party verification, Florida taxpayers are ensured greater access to public-notice information, allowing them to stay in the know about their communities and just how their hard-earned dollars are being utilized.
Dominic M. Calabro has been president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch for nearly four decades. Former Sen. Pat Neal is chairman-elect of Florida TaxWatch and president of Neal Communities. This op-ed ran in numerous publications throughout the state including the Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, Palm Beach Post and Tallahassee Democrat.