Don’t let DNR skip public notice


HERE WE GO AGAIN. On a cycle as regular as spring rains followed by summer humidity, we can count on some elected official or government agency proposing bad ideas about public information.

This time, again, it’s the Department of Natural Resources, trying to peddle in the state budget another version of a tired idea that was rebuffed in the 2011 legislative session.

The broad issue is about public notices of various government activity. In this case, the topic in question is the sale of timber land in Wisconsin, and the DNR’s responsibility to let the citizenry know when and where such sales are to occur.

Last time around, the topic was water regulations and oversight of the state’s navigable waters. Other like-minded attempts in the past involved the minutes of school board meetings, the votes taken, and wrong-headed attempts to limit the publication of that information.

Some elected officials and public agencies want to keep public information under wraps. They would expect citizens to ferret out important records on their own by digging through various government websites.

Whether it’s DNR plans for timber sales or changes to water rights, or the minutes from a school or city council meeting, those records should be easily obtainable and quickly accessible by citizens everywhere.

And the best way to do that is to publish such legal notices in local newspapers, from the smallest in the state to the largest. Newspapers also post government notices online, where they are searchable on a single website.

Part of Wisconsin’s great heritage in good government is our open records and open meetings law. Our law is among the strongest and most useful in the country. And it requires third-party publication of important public information.

That third-party role, a function effectively filled by local newspapers for generations, removes the ``fox guarding the henhouse’’ scenario that would exist if government entities were able to simply post their information on their own websites, as suggested by the DNR.

Sure, newspapers make money from public notices, and we would prefer to keep that revenue coming in. But far more important is the concept of open, accessible governmental bodies and a free flow of public information.

Burying that public information on government websites would be a giant step backward for Wisconsin. - Wisconsin State Journal, May 13

At issue:
Public information
Bottom line:
No exceptions for DNR

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