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Opinion: Public Notice 101- What is it and why is it important?

An often-misunderstood topic is that of public notice. What are public notices, you might ask?  Also referred to as “legals,” public notices are published notices required by law and used by governing and public bodies to inform the public about their activities. The types of entities which must publish legals include city and county governments, public utilities, school boards, courts, public commissions and boards, and law enforcement.

Public notices give citizens a window into the inner workings of their government and help ensure public business is conducted in the open. This helps us, as taxpayers, to make well-informed decisions, influence our governing bodies and take part in the democratic process.  Public notice is one aspect of government transparency and, by its very existence, provides government accountability because it puts the information in the hands of we, the people.

Issues requiring public notice are too numerous to list, but those you will commonly see in The Graphic include notices of elections, polling places and election results, public hearings, requests for contract bids, budgets and financial reports, ordinances, bond issuances, sales of property, certain assessments, audits of public bodies, zoning changes, intentions to change government-managed programs, delinquent tax lists, notices of unclaimed property, court notices (e.g., the appointments of administrators of estates being probated or confirmations of the title to tax-forfeited land), notices of the intention of a business or corporation to do business in the area, and advertisements for employment with a tax-funded entity.

In each week’s Graphic, you will typically find the public notices on or adjacent to the classified pages. By reading public notices which appear in the paper, you are taking one of the key steps necessary to become a more responsible citizen, by educating yourself about what is going on in local government. Then, you can intelligently share your thoughts and opinions with your elected officials. They welcome public input and want to know what you think. When you do this, it helps them make decisions which better reflect the wishes of the constituents they are elected to serve and represent.

Public notice also benefits the government because it demonstrates transparency through the disclosure of public information, which engenders the public’s trust and encourages involvement in the democratic process. Without public notice, the government is often viewed with skepticism and is thought to be operating under a policy of concealment.

Laws have been enacted which stipulate the place, time, frequency, and rate to be charged for public notices. Most are required to be published in a newspaper having general circulation in the area. For Johnson County, that means The Graphic. The rate charged for legals cannot exceed the published rate for classified advertising.

If The Graphic was to close, notices would still be required to be published in another paper, which would likely charge higher rates and be harder for citizens of Johnson County to access. Besides publishing notices in the print paper, we also have a tab on the main menu of our website where public notices for Johnson County and those of other communities throughout the state can be found.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “A well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.” Here at The Graphic, we are doing our part to support you in becoming members of a well-informed citizenry, just as we have for the past 144 years. We encourage you to do your part by engaging in the process, getting informed about the activities and actions of your government, and interacting with your public officials to encourage them, to hold them accountable and to make them aware of your opinion. It has been said that democracy dies in darkness; let’s not let it happen here.

This editorial appears in the Feb. 14 issue of The Graphic.

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