Archived Story

Editorial: Public notices need to be seen; meetings need to stay public

Published 10:06am Monday, March 3, 2014

Two bills in the Legislature concern us in particular. One would allow government entities to publish public notices on websites instead of in newspapers. Another would permit members of government bodies such as city councils to meet over social media without complying with the state’s open meetings law.

Both, if passed, would be horrible for the ability of the people of Minnesota to keep tabs on tax-collecting, law-making government agencies such as counties, townships, cities and school districts.

The point of public notices is that they are public and they get noticed. Putting them on websites entrusts government officials with the ability to have the notices on a part of the site findable for users. The problem no doubt will arise where a notice gets put on the web but people cannot navigate to it. This will happen one of two ways. 1. Either the web person will fail to create links to the page with the notice. 2. The page with the notices will be buried under a series of other pages: click here, then click there, then click here, then click there, then download this, then open that.

Publishing public notices in newspapers has been a time-tested and successful means of letting the public know official government business. In most newspapers and in this one, readers merely turn to the classifieds, find the heading “public notices” or “legal notices” and there they are. Simple as pie.

As for the open meetings law, it only makes parliamentary sense that the business of elected officials be conducted in front of the electorate. If all the discussion prior to votes happens through back channels, then what’s the point of rules for quorums and such? Heck, why even have official meetings, chambers, video cameras and recorded minutes if elected officials can just gather over Skype and call it savings? The reason is that several generations of lawmakers going back to the pioneers believed they ought to be held accountable for their actions by the public who elected them. That is why there is an open meetings law in the first place.

Efforts to water down this law are because some modern legislators want to tear up the pragmatism and common sense established by previous generations of Minnesotans. It’s a real shame.