Our View: Less is not always more
April 1, 2014
The town of Yampa has changed the way it publishes information about proposed town ordinances. Instead of publishing the entire text of proposed ordinances in a legal notice in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the town now will publish only the ordinance title — a move voters approved yesterday.
Colorado Revised Statutes require towns to publish proposed new ordinances in a local newspaper. The purpose of these publications is to keep governmental entities accountable to the residents they serve by reporting to the public on the way they are conducting business. Legal notices are published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Sundays and can be viewed, free of charge, on the newspaper's website. Under the same state law, towns with home rule charters also are allowed to publish ordinances by title only if voters approve that procedural change in a municipal election.
Yampa town leaders sought the legal notice change as a way to save money, but it is our contention that the small cost savings, if any, that Yampa will realize is far outweighed by the greater loss of public accountability. Residents now will have to visit Yampa Town Hall and look through the town's ordinance book to learn about proposed ordinances or, if motivated enough, they could access the information through the town's new website, which is yet to be completed.
Up until Tuesday's vote, Yampa residents could read the entire text of proposed ordinances in the newspaper's print and website editions, or they could find this information on a fully searchable state website where legal notices from across Colorado are published. We strongly believe that having ordinances easily accessible through second-party, independent platforms is crucial to open and transparent government, and we are disappointed to learn that Yampa will follow Oak Creek and no longer provide full ordinances in the newspaper's legal section.
Let us be abundantly clear. The newspaper does get revenue from publishing legal notices. In 2013, the city of Yampa spent $1,502.66 on ordinance publications, which is 3/10 of 1 percent of the city's annual budget of $437,346. The town still will be required to publish the title of proposed ordinances to notify residents that the ordinances are being considered, so the full amount will not be saved. Given this continued cost and the cost to build and maintain a website, we doubt the town will realize any savings at all.
We appreciate the town of Yampa's focus on fiscal responsibility, and we also support its plans to develop a city website, but we think the loss of transparency and limited access to information for local residents that will come as a result of limiting ordinance publications to title is not worth the fraction of a single percent the town may or may not save with this change.
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It also should be noted that the Steamboat Pilot & Today publishes legal notices at a rate established by the state Legislature, and that fee has not changed in 21 years. The publication of publicly supported legal notices could be viewed as a service rather than a major revenue generator.
By publishing ordinances by title only, Oak Creek and Yampa also remove vital information from the public domain. When notices are published in newspapers, they become part of a permanent record, which is catalogued in the newspaper archive and included in the state database of legal notices.
We think it's important that local residents understand and know exactly which new laws are being considered by town leaders, and this best happens when proposed ordinances are printed in their entirety in newspapers of record.
Government has a duty to make public information as available and as easy to access as possible. Reading the title of an ordinance and then being forced to track down the rest of the information places an undue burden on residents and makes access to government just that much more difficult.