Newspaper Public Notice is Affordable, Efficient, and Easy
As a means of keeping the government open and accountable, requiring public notice to be printed in newspapers is financially prudent. Newspapers that are certified to carry public notices are required by law to charge their lowest classified advertising rate for the publication of legal notices. The cost is quantifiable and predictable, especially when compared to the costs of creating and maintaining a website, which many rural counties or districts do not even have.
It is a myth that the Internet is a free method of posting information. The costs to the government for constructing and maintaining a website, as well as the cost to the citizen for having a computer and Internet service, must be considered. If proper safeguards are enacted (no such safeguards have been proposed), there will be staff costs related to compliance, even if the website already exists.
Opponents of public notice have made misleading claims about the cost of public notice, for example, citing the numbers for a school district’s entire advertising budget (including promotional advertising) when the legally-required public notice portion is only a fraction of that total. A closer look at local government budgets reveal that in nearly all cases, the amount spent on public notice is a tiny fraction of a percent of the total budget. vi
Public Notice is easy to find in newspapers—the same information is extremely difficult to access on some government websites:
Access to the Internet is not the only obstacle to obtaining procurement information from government websites. Sometimes the websites themselves create various obstacles to finding the information. Even large entities with sophisticated websites can be difficult to navigate and access procurement information. In addition, government websites go down, do not ensure archivability and disclaim the accuracy of their content.
Current proposals for moving some or all of public notices to government websites make no mention of standards for ensuring the ease of finding and accessing public notices. The Houston Independent School District is a good example of the kind of obstacles that governments place on accessing public notice when there are no standards. If every government entity in Houston uses the same approach, a citizen interested in local government proposals in the way of taxes or how they are spending taxpayers’ money on could be stymied in their efforts to locate and access all public notices for various Houston government entities.
Ease of Access to Public Notice Case Study: Houston Independent School District
Searching for procurement information related to the Houston Independent School District (“HISD”) requires the following steps using the newspaper:
- Turn to the Public Notice section in the Houston Chronicle.
To get the same information from the HISD website, one must take the following steps (based on a recent attempt on August 29, 2014):
- Go to the Houston ISD website.
- Click on the “Community” tab
- Click on “Doing Business with HISD”
- Click on “Procurement Services Department” link which directs the user to a new website.
- Click on “Bid Opportunities” and review titles of “New Current Bids”
- Click on the bid you want to view.
- Complete online form to download the bid.
- To complete form you must provide a company name, your full name, an email address and a phone number.
- Download file.
- To view another “new current bid” you must comlete the form again, for each bid you want to view.
- It appears that the bids are not accessible after they are closed. Instead a message appears where the form should appear, saying: “Form/Survey is Inactive or Expired. This form or survey is inactive or has expired. You cannot take it at this time. If you believe you’ve received this message in error, please contact the survey administrator: (ATRUONG@houstonisd.org) Click here to launch this survey.” Clicking “here” brings up an “access denied” page.
Governmental entities don’t stand behind their websites –typically, they post legalese disclaimers advising readers not to rely on the information contained therein.
Examples of local government disclaimers regarding their website contents:
City of San Antonio:
All City of San Antonio web sites are provided as a public service. PLEASE NOTE that users of these web sites are responsible for checking the accuracy, completeness, currency and/or suitability of all information. The CITY OF SAN ANTONIO makes no representations, guarantees, or warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, currency, or suitability of the information provided via these web sites.
This website has been established to serve only as a supplement to the official documents, information, and services available from the County’s governmental offices. While every effort has been made to offer the most accurate and current information available, the information included in this website has been compiled by County staff from a variety of sources and is subject to change without notice to the user. Information is provided on this website on an “as is” basis. The County makes no representations or warranties of any kind regarding the completeness, accuracy, reliability, currency, or suitability of the information, products, services, or graphics contained herein. Users of this website are responsible for determining these characteristics in relation to official County documents and the user’s individual needs.
El Paso County:
This information is compiled and made available as a public service by the County of El Paso, Texas. However, the County of El Paso, Texas makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for results obtained from the use of the information. Distribution of the information does not constitute such a warranty. Use of the information is the sole responsibility of the user.
City of Lubbock:
The City of Lubbock web site provides various information and materials. The web site is offered to you conditioned on your acceptance without modification of the terms, conditions and notices contained herein. Your use of the City of Lubbock web site constitutes your agreement to all such terms, conditions and notices.The City of Lubbock makes no accounts regarding the suitability of the information contained in the data published on the City of Lubbock website and its servers. All data published on the City of Lubbock web site is “as is” and contains no warranty of any kind. The City of Lubbock disclaims any and all warranties and conditions either expressed or implied about information and data including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, suitability for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement.
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