Editorial: Martin takes stand for open government with public notice bill

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THUMBS UP to state Rep. Susan Martin, who is standing up for government transparency by supporting legislation that will keep public notices in the public eye.

Martin, R-Wilson, signed on as a co-sponsor to House Bill 572, which Deputy Majority Leader Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, introduced on Wednesday. HB 572 would maintain the legal requirement that public notices be published in newspapers, but it would require newspapers to post the notices online and provide a 15 percent discount for those that run more than one day.

The bill offers a compromise to local government lobbyists who want to let cities and counties post public notices on their own websites in lieu of print publication. Newspaper websites dwarf municipal sites’ web traffic, and open-government advocates want to ensure the notices are available to the widest possible audience in print and online.

Public notices include important announcements of special meetings, land transfers, contract bids and other government actions. Putting cities and counties in charge of disseminating that information means moves that might otherwise prove controversial could be hidden from the public, buried on a hard-to-find page of a little-used website.

Newspapers, both the hold-and-fold version and their companion websites where breaking stories can be featured 24 hours a day, are still the closest thing we have to a community bulletin board. Government websites would be a poor substitute.

Sen. Rick Horner, R-Wilson, is sponsoring the Senate version of the compromise bill. We’re proud that Wilson County legislators are leading the way in working to maintain the availability of public notices.

Martin deserves a round of applause for backing a bill that’s clearly in the public’s interest.

THUMBS DOWN to a bill that seeks to block out-of-state researchers, advocacy groups and interested parties from reviewing North Carolina public records.

State Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, introduced Senate Bill 649 on Tuesday. The bill seeks to restrict state and local government records access to North Carolina residents by changing the Public Records Law’s broad declaration that records are the collective property “of the people.”

SB 649 is a retread of a bill Daniel filed in March 2015 that failed to gain traction. The earlier version said records belong to “citizens of this state.” Apparently realizing that only sovereign nations have citizens, Daniel refiled his bill with those references changed to “residents of this state.”

The N.C. Association of County Commissioners pushed for the change in its 2015-16 legislative agenda, but it didn’t make the cut in the private lobbying group’s 2017-18 list of goals. A spokesman said in 2015 that county leaders resented voluminous records requests from out-of-state universities.

If North Carolina were an independent nation, Daniel’s bill might make sense. But the intermingling of money through federal taxes and grant awards mean Tar Heels help pay for projects in Texas and Californians chip in for a share of our spending.

In 2013, North Carolina’s state budget included about $16 billion in federal funds — nearly a third of the state’s total revenues.

We challenge this bill’s sponsors to give us one good reason why American taxpayers in all 50 states shouldn’t have the right to see how their money’s being used here.