Editorial | Government accountability, transparency must be protected

Promises to protect and enhance government accountability, accessibility and transparency were a common and popular refrain among candidates during the local 2010 primary and general elections. However, now that the elections are over, the votes have been tallied and the 2011 state legislative session is underway, it seems that those promises have been forgotten or are simply being ignored.

Case in point is SB 5360 and HB 1478 which would eliminate the statutory requirement for city and county governments to publish public notices — such as decisions relating to public debt, laws, policies, taxation and qualify of life issues — in a newspaper of record and would instead allow those jurisdictions to self-publish them only on the jurisdiction’s website. The stated intent is to help cities and counties reduce costs and save money.

Unfortunately, in this case, the cost to the public in lost government accountability, accessibility and transparency by not publishing the public notices in a local newspaper of record clearly exceeds any monetary savings the cities and counties might experience.

The publication of public notices in a local newspaper of record compels government to report on its actions in an independent medium not affected by government influence or control. Publication of notices in a newspaper of record also helps ensure that the information is provided to the community in a complete and timely manner.

Changing the law to allow government websites to be the sole source of such vital information would make it difficult, at best, to verify the publication of all required public notices. It is also possible that a law allowing local governments to self-advertise could open the door to selective advertising meaning the public would not have proper and full access to all the information to which it is entitled.

Public notices provide some transparency into the actions of the government and enable community members to become better informed. It is vital that the public have easy and complete access to this information, which is something that HB 1478 and SB 5360 only make more difficult.

Governance is not a spectator sport. Our involvement does not and should not end when we cast our vote — we must stay engaged and in touch with those we elected and whose job it is to represent us. There is a public hearing on HB 1478 currently scheduled for Feb. 4, at 8 a.m., in Olympia. While it is not possible for many of us to attend, we can contact our elected officials beforehand to let them know we expect and demand that they protect and enhance government accountability, accessibility and transparency.

To contact your local representatives and senators, go to our websites at www.arlingtontimes.com or www.marysvilleglobe.com, select the “Blogs” pull-down menu and select “Legislative Tracker.” There you’ll find links to the emails of the representatives and senators from the 10th, 38th, 39th and 44th Legislative Districts. You’ll also be able to look up specific bills such as SB 5360 and HB 1478, and you’ll find a link to the Washington State Legislature website.

Protect your right to know. Get involved, take action and let your elected officials know you want the public notices provision removed from HB 1478 and SB 5360.

Contact Managing Editor Scott Frank at 360-659-1300 or email at sfrank@marysvilleglobe.com.

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