It seems like the legislature can’t go a year without trying to restrict the public’s access to information that is rightfully theirs.
This year’s attempt to curtail transparency includes House Bill 4232, which would eliminate the requirement to publish in a newspaper a summary of a school district’s annual statement of affairs. That summary provides information like salaries and contract details. As proposed, the measure would require publication of a notice that the statement is available on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website, or at the district’s main administration office.
We acknowledge that the SJ-R, like other newspapers, has some financial benefit from paid legal ads from local governments. However, our concern here is for transparency to interested taxpayers and the continued efforts by elected officials to erode access to public information. It’s been repeatedly shown that many local governments cannot be trusted to share information in the manner they are required to by law.
An audit conducted in 2014 by the Citizens Advocacy Center, for instance, found that 49 percent of public agencies it examined didn’t even have a website. Of those that did, only 73 percent posted required notice of upcoming meetings, 57 percent posted meeting agendas and only 48 percent posted approved meeting minutes. And governmental bodies rarely face any type of meaningful repercussions for those failures.
Newspapers, on the other hand, believe public notices should be available in print and online. Every newspaper is required to post all public notices they publish in print on PublicNoticeIllinois.com. That’s thanks to a law that was supported by the Illinois Press Association, of which the SJ-R is a member. The state’s newspapers fund and maintain the central, searchable online database with the goal of providing easy access to information.
HB 4232 would not save any staff time — school districts would have to prepare the information for ISBE. The cost of legal ads is typically a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall budget of a school district. Not everyone has access to the internet, and this would reduce opportunities to see this information if newspapers did not publish it.
Public bodies confident they are providing the required information should have no qualms about it being shared as widely as possible. HB 4232 aims to restrict the public’s access to information. It should be voted down.
The State Journal-Register, Sprilgfield, Thursday