his week, as newspapers across the nation celebrate Sunshine Week – a week dedicated to pursuing government transparency at every level – it’s appropriate that we thank elected officials who believe in and defend the public’s right to know.
This legislative session, several attempts were made in the House to dilute the state’s contract letting requirements by removing requirements that school districts advertise in newspapers bids for construction of buildings worth more than $50,000 as well as the requirement that the state advertise the hiring of professional services such as architects if the services are to cost more than $25,000.
Thankfully, the public’s right to know was defended in the Senate, where Sens. Dave Kinskey, Dan Dockstader and Bill Landen added amendments to bills restoring publication of bid notices in newspapers.
The reason it’s your right to know is that it’s your government.
Every penny spent by local, state and federal government is your money.
When governments are not held accountable for their spending and citizens are not able to easily track that spending, costs go up, and government becomes less efficient.
Thanks to public notices, readers of the Buffalo Bulletin know that city of Buffalo Mayor Shane Schrader is paid just over $15,000 annually.
In Bell, California, that was not the case, and left unchecked, the city’s manager was soon taking home $787,000 per year. Bell is a suburb of Los Angeles with a population of about 38,000. Local residents long wondered how the city manager was able to afford a multi-million-dollar luxury home on the beach, but it took an investigation by the Los Angeles Times to discover that the manager’s salary had increased tenfold in 17 years. That same investigation also found that the chief of police was earning $450,000 – more than 50 percent more than the salary of Los Angeles’ chief of police.
Public notices in local newspapers ensure that anyone who reads the newspaper can know what their government is up to. What bids are being let? To whom and for how much? How much did the county commission spend on new equipment?
And you don’t even have to buy a paper to get this information because it’s free at the local library and local newspaper websites or statewide at wyopublicnotices.com.
Public notices provide a permanent, secure and independent repository that keeps government in check by allowing citizens to know how their money is being spent and what their elected officials are doing.
The goal of the Wyoming Legislature shouldn’t be to make government spending easier and less accountable.
The goal should always be to allow citizens to easily find out how every government dollar is spent.
According to research by Notre Dame’s Medoza College of Business, without the accountability provided by local newspapers, not only do government salaries and the number of government employees go up, so too does spending in all categories, adversely impacting government’s ability to borrow money with bonding. In essence, government becomes vastly more inefficient and expensive.
Wyoming citizens simply cannot afford to eliminate public notices in newspapers.