Some Indiana lawmakers seem intent on undermining government transparency, a linchpin of democracy.
Specifically, bills to take public notices out of newspapers — where they belong — have been introduced year after year in the General Assembly. The majority of lawmakers have ultimately turned back these proposals. But that doesn’t stop their colleagues who would throw a veil over information that should be easy to find.
The current effort, Senate Bill 409, includes a clause that would remove the requirement that townships have specific receipts and expenditures published in a local newspaper. Instead, the information would be available for public inspection in the county auditor’s office.
Here’s the problem: Very few Hoosiers make regular trips to the county auditor’s office or ever peruse the auditor’s website.
Millions of Hoosiers, on the other hand, read print newspapers or visit newspaper websites. Newspapers are widely read because they contain a wide range of useful information, including public notices.
Government websites? Not so much.
Supporters of SB 409, which passed through the Indiana Senate without a single dissenting vote and awaits a vote on the House floor, argue that it’s too expensive for public notices to be posted in newspapers, and it is true that newspapers charge for the service.
But public notice fees are just a drop in the bucket for local government units. Elkhart County, for example, spent just 0.13% of its budget in 2020 on public notices. The county seat, Goshen, spent even less, 0.01%.
While the cost of publishing in the local newspaper is modest, the cost of not doing so would be steep for Hoosiers who want to know about sheriff’s sales, government spending, public school performance and a wide range of other government activities.
Transparency of township transactions, the target of SB 409, is a prime example of the public’s need to know. As detailed in a 2018 investigative report by CNHI News Indiana, township government costs Hoosiers nearly half a billion dollars a year and is a petri dish for inefficiency, poor record keeping, nepotism and fraud.
So do Indiana lawmakers really want to put township financial records in a place where almost nobody will go looking for them?
For millions of Hoosiers, that’s a rhetorical question.
The Herald Bulletin, Anderson