Public Notice Printed in Newspapers Provides Transparency and Supports Open Government goals
A push to take public notice out of newspapers and give control over the notice to local governments is part of an ongoing attempt by local governmental lobbyists which will reduce transparency, and oversight. Open government and public oversight are the cornerstones of our democracy. Opponents of public notice in newspapers would like us to believe that the purpose of public notice is to reach vendors and bidders for public projects. But the purpose is to keep the public informed on the spending and taxing activities of the government, and the public has a right to have public notices published in a single location that is easily accessible. Eliminating public notice from being printed in newspapers would make it easier for contracts to be awarded without oversight, which would serve no public benefit.
When the government is not required to place information about opportunities in easily accessible locations that are independent of the government, such as newspapers, the end result can be extreme favoritism and nepotism. While it would be nice to believe that our local government employees and officials do not engage in reckless spending, corruption, unnecessary taxation and “brother-in-law” deals with taxpayer’s money, it would be foolish to fail to have some checks and balances giving local citizens a way to keep track of taxes and spending through a source which is independent of the government. A brief list of recent Texas public corruption convictions can be found below.
Public notice requirements provide the public with a reliable, consistent and independent printed source to turn to help monitor the spending of their government. It also provides grand juries, law enforcement, municipalities, private citizens and public corporations an independent, archived, verified record of public notice. Nothing prevents governmental entities from posting public notices on their websites as well, and many of them do so. But supplanting notice in newspapers by governmental websites would put the burden on citizens to scour hundreds (i.e. in Houston alone there are nearly 500 property tax entities) of separate websites, digging deep into internal pages in order to monitor government spending or locate opportunities.
The Fox Guarding The Henhouse
Government officials should not operate without oversight and transparency. Moving public notice to government websites will make it easier for contracts to be awarded without any oversight. Information on websites can be changed at will and there is no third party to provide accountability. From Weslaco to Dallas, when no one was watching, favoritism, nepotism and corruption happens and has happened in the past few years.
In 2009, a federal jury convicted former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, his wife, and several others in a massive corruption scheme involving sham business contracts and bribery. According to the Dallas Morning News, the FBI proved that “Hill and his cohorts used the veneer of racial inclusion to force white developers to pay exorbitant sums in bogus construction and consulting fees in exchange for votes so they could build their projects in southern Dallas.” http://www.fbi.gov/dallas/press-releases/2009/dl100509.htm http://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/headlines/20100227-Three-in-Dallas-City-Hall-case-2499.ece
The former Executive Director of the Eagle Pass Housing Authority, Lesvia Barrera, and her nephew were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the federal government after testimony revealed that Barrera awarded $20,000 in contracts for construction projects that were never performed. http://www.fbi.gov/sanantonio/press-releases/2009/sa112009.htm
In 2010, eleven individuals, including government employees and officials such as the El Paso county district clerk, school board trustees and a mayor were indicted in an extensive public corruption case. The charges included allegations of kickbacks in exchange for government contracts. http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9I0GONO0.htm
In 2009 a former Hempstead Mayor Pro-Tem and a former city alderman both pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for voting to award city contracts to vendors. http://www.fbi.gov/houston/press-releases/2009/ho022609a.htm
In 2010 a former project manager for the San Antonio Housing Authority pled guilty to accepting kickbacks in exchange for directing contract work to a particular contractor. The manager was one of several at the housing authority charged by federal prosecutors with accepting kickbacks. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Ex-SAHA-manager-pleads-guilty-794209.php
In 2011, a former trustee for the Weslaco Independent School District pled guilty to accepting a bribe in exchange for using his office to influence the awarding of a contract. http://www.fbi.gov/houston/press-releases/2011/former-weslaco-isd-trustee-convicted-of-accepting-bribe-for-school-renovation-project