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February 24, 2010 - Don't slug me.

I'm gonna' say something that will make some of your heads turn unhealthy hues. Take a deep breath . . . let it out . . . relax, breathe...

"Every problem is really an opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of."

No, I am not my evil twin brother, Ronny Kumbaya Sunshine Rush.

I am still the pure-as-the-drive-snow and ever-virtuous Donald There'sARainCloudOutThereSomewhere Rush -- sometimes known as Donny Downer, or Don "I'm A Conspiracy Waiting To Happen" Rush. Regardless of moniker, if asked, folks here at work will tell you oftentimes I philosophize about problems and opportunities (if only mockingly).

Maybe I should not be such a mockster.

The other day I received an email from the Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications group, headlined: Communities could save money on public notices under new legislation.

Yep, there are some in your very own state legislature (and I am sure right here in your very own locally elected governments) that are going to use the state's financial woes to trample on the public's right to know. By the way, you dear readers, are "the" public.

It's nothing new. Disgruntled public officials have long sought to get out of their responsibilities of running public notices in print -- in particular in newsprint. I understand. Nobody likes to feed the dog that bites them. It's human nature, and since public officials are human, it's easy to see why they would want to pull public notices from newspapers -- newspapers routinely spank public officials' round little tushes when we catch them with their pants down.

Each time some brainiac in Lansing brings up banishing public notices from newspapers under the guise of "saving" taxpayer money, other common sensical Lansing types have thwarted the actions. But, that was then -- now we are in the midst of an economic nightmare and some elected officials are making our problem their opportunity.

From the press release: "Michigan communities could save money with legislation introduced today that would allow them to issue public notices on-line instead of in print publications. The measure . . . would improve the effectiveness of public notices given that market demands and cost-cutting measures are forcing media outlets to supplement/replace traditional newspapers with on-line e-news.

'"This is a chance for the legislature to save the taxpayer some money while creating greater transparency in government,' said Dan Gilmartin, CEO of the Michigan Municipal League.

"The city of Romulus budgeted $25,000 for public notices in 2009 and spent $20,000.

'"Local communities. . . are doing everything we can to tighten our belts, protect jobs and save taxpayer dollars Ė and this proposal will help communities save money," said Romulus City Clerk Ellen Bragg. "This legislation is a step in the right direction, especially in these tough times when all local communities are struggling . . ."

In a word, cowdung.

The cynic in me cries out: Saving taxpayer dollars is a red herring! This measure only entrusts governments to do what is right and post their notices on their websites without any checks (not to mention balances). By a show of hands, how many trust their government?

I called the Michigan Press Association and talked to Director Mike MacLaren. Besides telling him he needed a haircut, I asked about this new Lansing proposal by Rep. Doug Geiss (D-Taylor). First he swore, then he apologized for the lapse of etiquette, and then relayed this story.

"In Trenton last year, we tried to get a copy of proposed ballot question that was supposed to be on their web site. We wanted to read the ballot language. It wasn't there!We called them and they ended up having to fax it to us.The thing is, they paid somebody $60,000 a year to administer their site and they couldn't get it to work."

"I think some legislators may have lost sight that public notices are legal documents. Try going into a court of law with a website as evidence."

He also left me with this thought:

Jeopardizing public oversight and right to know is too high a cost to pay. These notices often deal with matters affecting home values, special assessments or fees for local residents or small businesses. Newspapers are a fair and independent source to ensure the public is informed about these important government notices.

Running public notices is not a money-making venture for us at this newspaper. We charge FAR below what they are worth, because they are so important. We also publish them on-line and we encourage local governments to post them, too.

For the record, I am going to post other reasons why this proposal sucks on our website.

If you have an opinion on this, please let me know. Email don@dontrushmendon.com

Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: don@dontrushmedon.com
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