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Papers provide proper place for public notices

My Opinion
Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor

The public notices printed in a newspaper provide a great wealth of information.
For example, in last week’s issue of this paper, two towns had invitations to bidders for projects; the Alcoholic Beverage Commission of Harrison County announced a hearing for three alcohol permits; three school corporations, nine townships and two towns published their proposed budgets for 2013 along with dates for public hearings about the budgets; a dozen sheriff sales were listed; the county council posted its additional appropriations it will act upon; the county commissioners listed the recently filed claims, as well as notice for bids on two projects; the county parks department noted it is seeking bids for a project; one town notified the public of its executive session to discuss a personnel issue; the county plan commission made notice that the final draft of the proposed comprehensive plan will be presented at its next meeting; the state of Indiana is accepting bids on a vehicle; a storage facility will be disposing of items in three rental buildings if the property isn’t claimed by a certain date; three estates listed pertinent information to anyone who might have a claim to the deceased’s property; and three property owners gave notice of no hunting/trespassing on their land.
Granted, not everyone in Harrison County will care about each public notice, although there are several you should be concerned with, like the school corporation and township where you pay property taxes.
But imagine trying to locate this information at each entity’s chosen method of providing it instead of all public notices being neatly packaged in the newspaper. What if your school corporation wanted to list its budget only on its website and you only have dial-up service for your home computer? Or, perhaps you don’t have a computer. Would you know where and when to look for such a notice? Would you take the time each day to check for it?
Well, the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management’s Office of Air Quality wants permission to stop publishing notices in newspapers, opting instead to use its website and send e-mails to those who request notification. While making this request, during the summer’s first Environmental Quality Service Council meeting last week at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly commented that websites and e-mail would reach more people, compared to public notices in newspapers, which he said were expensive and time consuming to place and track. He further stated that they ‘know who the interested people are.’
I would suspect that the e-mail addresses of the special-interest groups are in Easterly’s contact list, but is yours? Easterly obviously doesn’t live in the country where high-speed Internet service isn’t even available, and he must not know there are still Hoosiers who, for whatever reason, don’t own a computer.
The Indiana General Assembly, not newspapers, implemented the requirement of public notices, setting strict guidelines to follow as to when a notice must be published, what information must be given, what size type it must be in, how many times it must appear and, with a few exceptions, how much can be charged for the notice before action can be taken by a governing body. There are even requirements that must be met for a newspaper to be considered an approved publication for public notices.
Both this newspaper and our sister paper, the Clarion News, are state-approved publications for public notices. Yes, we do receive revenue from these notices, but we also are providing a service for you so, hopefully, you are aware of what’s going on in your community. So you know when your town council plans to enact a new ordinance. So you know what your property tax levy will be. So, if you’re a contractor, you know about a project that you may want to provide a bid.
The Hoosier State Press Association, when it learned of IDEM’s request, offered to handle the process of placing public notices and gathering the proof of such for their files for the agency, at no charge, in order to ensure Indiana residents will continue to be provided with public notices in the best possible manner so they will have the opportunity to take whatever action they deem necessary in response to the notices.
I appreciate IDEM wanting to reach more people by posting notices on its website and via e-mails, but that is something they should do in addition to the state’s requirement to have notices published in newspapers, a source used for more than 80 years. It doesn’t require you to search daily for any new notices an agency might have posted or high-speed Internet to read it when there is a posting. This newspaper, as well as others, does include its public notices online for those who wish to view them that way. All you need to do is remember to check weekly for new public notices.
If you agree that government entities, public school corporations, etc., should continue to give notice through publications like this newspaper, contact your state legislators and voice your concern. You might also want to let the EPA know your thoughts about its lack of concern for making sure you know of its intentions.
Otherwise, we might just be left to flounder on our own in locating information that could have a lasting impact on our daily lives and pocketbooks.