Posted 2/06/19 (Wed)
By Neal A. ShipmanFarmer Editor
How much should the public know about where their city and county governments spends taxpayer money? But more importantly, how easy should it be for taxpayers to find out where their elected city and county officials are spending the dollars that taxpayers have entrusted them with?
For as many years as most people can remember, the answer to where city and county government spent taxpayers money was as easy as picking up a copy of their local official newspaper. As written into state law, city and county governments are required to publish their monthly bills as part of their official minutes.
While newspapers do receive payment from the publication of these bills, in the scope of a city or county budget, the cost of printing those bills and providing easy public access to where local government is spending their funds, isn’t significant.
But there is an effort by North Dakota counties and cities to remove the requirement of printing those bills in their local official newspaper, which for McKenzie County, is the McKenzie County Farmer. And last week, that movement gained steam as the North Dakota House Political Subdivisions Committee voted 9-5 to recommend passage of Bill 1229.
Rather than printing their bills in their official newspaper, cities and counties now want to just publish those bills on their government websites. And that push flies in the face of the fact that time and time again, voters have overwhelmingly said that they want the bills and minutes of their city, county or school district published in their official newspaper.
While proponents of not publishing a full listing of the bills being paid by city or county government in their official newspaper say that by just making those bills available on their own website would be a cost-savings, that argument doesn’t really stand up.
According to the North Dakota Newspaper Association, the publishing of public notices typically cost counties far less than 1/10th of 1 percent of their budgets. In fact, in most counties, the savings from not publishing these notices would not be enough to buy health insurance for one commissioner for one month.
While technology is great, it is highly unlikely that the average person is going to take the time to try to find the government entities website to read the minutes or review the bills. A recent survey conducted for NDNA confirms that belief as it discovered that 70 percent of North Dakota adults said that they would not read public notices if they had to go to a government website to find them.
Newspapers have always been the champions of the “public’s right to know,” which is why we believe that it is important that government’s meeting minutes and where they spend the taxpayers money must be as easily accessible as possible. And truly, there is no easier or more accessible source of that information than the local official newspaper. Not only is the newspaper handy to pick up, but every newspaper maintains its own archives of back issues, as well as works with NDNA to maintain a statewide public notices website.
HB1229 is a bad bill for North Dakotans when it comes to ensuring true transparency in government.
For McKenzie County residents who wish to share their thoughts on HB1229 with their District 39 Legislators, they can be contacted at the following email addresses: Rep. Denton Zubke, firstname.lastname@example.org; Representative Keith Kempenich, email@example.com; or Sen. Dale Patten, firstname.lastname@example.org.