Here are some editorial opinions from across the state:
Getting rid of ads in public newspapers makes cities less transparent
July 4 Casper Star-Tribune
There are reasons why laws exist to require government to be transparent. On the one hand, the government looks after the affairs of the public and should be accountable to the voters. It feeds on the public money generated by the taxes paid by individuals and businesses. And he makes decisions, big and small, that affect real people.
There is another reason. Without rules with penalties, some members of government would be happy to do the work of the public out of sight. They may prefer the lack of publicity and the absence of questions.
But transparency, as the saying goes, is the best disinfectant. This reduces the risk of waste, bloat or even corruption. When the public is watching, the government is more likely to do the right thing.
Recently, the communities of Mills and Bar Nunn have taken steps to make their governments less transparent. Both have passed ordinances which they say exempt them from state laws requiring municipalities to publish public notices in the newspaper on various matters. Instead of posting notices with a non-governmental entity, cities now post them on their websites and in public places. Doing so, they say, is more efficient and less expensive. (Newspapers like the Star-Tribune charge municipalities for space in their publications.)
Whatever the intentions of communities, they make public affairs less accessible to the public. And this lack of transparency could have consequences. Transparency is what keeps the small government from becoming an exclusive and often powerful club.
Ronald Reagan popularized the phrase “Trust, but verify”. Without a third party, we end up with the confidence of the government to do the right thing without a way to verify it. The towns say the notices will be available in three public places, but Bar Nunn has listed only two, and one of them, the fire department, was not accessible to the public when a reporter recently visited.
The cities also say they will post the notices online. What if they don’t – or don’t do it in a timely manner? When a reporter took to Mills’ website in June, meeting minutes were only available until the end of March.
And what if an employee decides to change an online review after the fact? If it is listed on a municipality’s website, what safeguards would prevent it?
Requiring notice to be published in a third-party publication makes these concerns less likely. Unlike an online review, a physical review cannot be deleted or edited when no one is looking. It is accessible to people who do not have access to computers. And that avoids a situation where the government fox is responsible for guarding the chicken coop.
Ask yourself the following question: do you trust the government to be held accountable? Without safeguards, do you trust the government to do the right thing? Will it be as effective if no one is watching?
There is evidence to suggest otherwise. Studies have shown that in communities that lose their local newspapers, the cost of government increases. Without this transparency and accountability, municipalities become more costly places for taxpayers.
The question is hardly academic. Public notices are not reserved for municipal councils and departmental commissions. They are also needed for things like zoning variances and oil and gas wells. Would you rather wait for someone to construct a building that encroaches too close to your land or drills an oil well too close to a school? Public notices are good and should be done in a correct manner that keeps everyone informed.
It’s ironic that this episode started in Mills, a town that has its own issues with government corruption. In 2017, his then treasurer was convicted of embezzling $ 60,000 of public money. A year earlier, the then city mayor had resigned while under investigation for interfering in the embezzlement investigation and profiting from the city’s land sales. In 2018, it was revealed that the city was almost four months behind in releasing its council minutes. The current crop of leaders has apparently taken real steps to improve government and its operations. But is it really wise to lift the transparency safeguards just a few years after these controversies?
The people of Wyoming tend to have a healthy skepticism of the government. Most people prefer a small, quiet, and efficient government. These qualities are more likely in a municipality that holds itself publicly accountable and makes direct efforts to be truly transparent. Getting rid of public notices in the newspapers is a step in the wrong direction.