Don’t forget to check the box
Dec. 5, 2011
by Ryan Gueningsman

In reading the Delano Herald Journal over the past few months, one may have noticed a new addition to the front page.

It’s not colorful, nor does it make a bold first impression. However, it is the key to some of the most important information in the newspaper every week. A small box, typically placed under the “Happenings” column on the front page, tells readers what public notices are included in this week’s edition.

On a weekly basis, the newspaper receives notices from local government bodies regarding things like public hearings, variance and conditional use permit requests, special meetings, and any number of other issues facing our local communities.

Now, at face value, some of those topics may not sound all that exciting. However, when one takes a closer look at these notices, one will realize there are serious issues that shape the community as it moves forward.

A public hearing regarding the master plan at Central Park could impact where you or your children play ball in the summer.

A truth in taxation hearing conducted by a county, city, or school district could impact the amount you pay in property taxes.

A notice regarding repairs to city sewer lines could dictate whether one gets to those loads of laundry that are piling up.

A public notice just may also save you a parking ticket in the winter months when parking regulations are in effect. I know this firsthand, as I received a parking ticket years back when I parked overnight in front of a friend’s house.

I had questioned the ticket and did not think it was warranted, as it had not snowed that night, but was informed the winter regulations had been published in our own newspaper one or two weeks prior.

Had I read the public notice in the newspaper that had appeared regarding the parking regulations, it would have saved me a few bucks and a lot of grief from my friends.

Some things, like tax increment financing, bonds, or audit reports may not sound too exciting – and believe me, as someone who has sat through many meetings of local government bodies – they are not exciting.

But, they are important.

A study done by Decision Resources for the City of Delano in 2010 indicated an overwhelming majority of people in Delano prefer their local newspaper as their primary source of information.

Recently, there has been talk and even legislation to allow government entities to post notices on their website instead of requiring they be published in an official newspaper.

This is intended as a cost-saving measure for local government bodies, though they may find it more of an expense than anticipated.

Also, it costs money for a government entity to maintain and update its own website, which in most cases, would be higher than the cost to publish notices in the newspaper. The printed notices are also posted on the newspaper website at no additional cost for online readers.

Such legislation to remove the newspaper’s involvement has also come without any standards or requirements on how government entities must post notices. This means there is no incentive for them to do it correctly or consequences if they don't.

Also, newspapers are meant to be the government watch-dogs. Public notices in the newspaper are a critical check-and-balance of possible government errors.

The newspaper and its website also have a larger readership than any local government website. And, what about the taxpayers and constituents who don’t, or choose not to, have access to the Internet?

Take the time each week and “check the box” to see what notices are appearing in the newspaper each week – and what is happening in our community.

It could tell you whether or not you can get those loads of laundry done, at which ball park your children will be playing, or, as I found out the hard way, even what streets you can or cannot park on in the winter months.

Enterprise Dispatch News Editor Kristen Miller contributed to this editorial.