Did you know that the local shop half a mile from the park where your kids like to play now sells alcohol? or that the prominent business in the community hasn't paid their property taxes in over a year? Were you aware that the vacant house in your neighborhood has been rezoned as a business?
Well, being in the dark about issues that directly impact your community could be the norm if a new bill is approved by the North Carolina General Assembly.
Like a reoccurring nightmare, house members have yet again filed legislation to run public notices on government-operated websites instead of in newspapers. In what feels like an attempt to keep the public in the dark, separate bills have been proposed that would impact 14 counties in the Piedmont and mountains and 12 counties in Eastern North Carolina.
Davidson County is among the regions included in this unlucky list. At first glance, these bills may seem harmless but the most dangerous things in the world normally do.
To neutralize a threat, first, one must understand what is truly at stake. Public notices inform citizens about government actions in cases of competitive bidding, rezonings, budget hearings, auctions, delinquent tax notices, street name changes and more.
These notices alert the public in advance about issues that directly impact the community, but would otherwise commence almost completely undetected if they were removed from the much broader reach of newspapers and news websites.
Current law ensures that public notices reach the largest possible cross-section of the community. A recent study done by the North Carolina Press Association showed newspaper websites drew 4-5 times as much traffic, as county websites.
Traffic on county websites is significantly small compared to newspaper websites and print circulation. The same study conducted in December of last year found that 6.6 million North Carolina adults read a newspaper product every month for information about their local community.
Eighty-six percent cite local newspapers as their “most trusted” source for public notices instead of government websites. The proposed bill would bury public notices on a website that few citizens visit while simultaneously killing the public's right to know.