Editorial: Public information

From The Journal (Cortez): The Montezuma County commissioners are investigating ways to pay less for publishing legal notices.

At first, that sounds laudable. Seeking ways to minimize government expenses is always a good idea. The detail potentially lost in that objective, however, is that “publishing legal notices” means “providing information to the public about what their government is doing.” This is not all about money; it is about something more important.

Informing citizens in a cost-effective manner is good; doing less of it is not good at all. Representative government is only ever as good as its constituents require it to be, and uninformed constituents cannot effectively monitor it.

Add to that the putative belief that elected officials do, or at least should, desire citizen participation, and it is obviously incumbent on the commissioners to be sure that no action they take reduces the amount of information available and easily accessible to the public. Tacking notices to a bulletin board in the courthouse does not provide the same value.

Montezuma County has long required such notices to be published in an established local newspaper that is circulated at least weekly. Right now, the Journal is the only qualifying newspaper. The county could change its own rules — after providing adequate notice to the public, of course — but would still run up against a state statute with the same requirements.

The state law has stood against many challenges from Colorado governmental entities — mostly counties — and their lobbyists. Over the years, they have accomplished some tweaks, but legislators are, rightly, reluctant to remove a mechanism that protects citizens’ ability to be involved in what their governments are doing. One rationale behind maintaining the current system is that it is part of a time-honored system of checks and balances. Allowing governments to publish their own notices only through their own websites (which they are certainly free to use also) does not provide many checks.

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