Editorial: Public information

  • Thursday, January 31, 2013

Keeping the public informed is the job of newspapers, radio and television stations. Itís also the responsibility of government, on a local, state and federal level. Just this week, newspapers across South Carolina had to tackle a misguided effort to save a few dollars that would have gutted the peopleís right to know.
Rep. Stephen Goldfinch (R-Pawleys Island) was among 51 co-sponsors of a bill that would have vastly harmed the publicís access to information.
In what he told the Georgetown Times was an effort to save printing costs, Goldfinch and others wanted to allow public notices of all sorts to be placed on governmental Web sites and not require them to be published in the local newspaper of record.
Yes, that would likely save some money. But no, it would not have increased the publicís ability to find out what government bodies are up to.
Currently, if thereís a planning commission meeting, a city or county council or school board meeting, a grant application, a public road or a new use proposed for a piece of land, that all has to be published in the local newspaper of record.
Under the proposal ó which has since been sent to committee ó the billís sponsors wanted to circumvent the committee process, do away with the requirement that public notices be put in a convenient public place and force the public to search through who knows how many different government Web sites.
Just for the Georgetown Times and its family of newspapers, we publish more than 33,000 print copies of our three newspapers and a shopper each week.
Georgetown Countyís population is about 61,000.
The Georgetown Times, Waccamaw Times and Inlet Outlook reach at least half of the adult population in the county and take the information beyond the county lines as well.
While government Web sites are much better organized than they used to be, they are still difficult to navigate.
If you donít know that hot-button issue is going to be coming before the planning commission, you wonít know to go searching through a government Web site to find out about that big box store or the adult entertainment shop.
And if you want to find out about various meetings, thereís literally no telling how many Web sites and Web pages youíd have to visit in an effort to learn where and when meetings would be held and whatís on the agenda.
With public notices in the newspaper, itís easy to look through the pages for that information ó and along the way, you get to read about many other fascinating news and feature items.
Weíre glad that the measure has been sent to a committee and we hope thatís where it stays.
And in the meantime, what was the big rush to propose the bill on Thursday, Jan. 24, and try to get it approved on Tuesday, Jan. 29, without a hearing?
If it truly had merit, why could it not be made known for public scrutiny in the first place?
Weíll keep on doing our best to let the light shine on government.

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