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Editorial: Christianson proposal is simply bad public policy

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City Councilman Ron Christianson's suggestion Monday that the city of Willmar cease publishing public notices in its official newspaper and replace them with other methods was ill-advised for open government purposes but also is not legal under Minnesota law.

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Once again, Christianson appears to be putting his personal bias and/or need for retribution ahead of sound reasoning, the public's right-to-know interest and good government policy.

Under Minnesota statute, the city of Willmar is required to publish every notice requested or authorized by law in a qualified newspaper. The West Central Tribune is the only qualified newspaper published within Willmar city limits.

The most important part of Minnesota's public notice law is that it is a critical part of the three-legged stool of government accountability -- public meetings, public notices and public records.

Weakening any one of these three critical pillars of good government in Willmar or elsewhere in Minnesota is poor government policy and only seeks to restrict the right and ability of every citizen to good and open government.

Here are some key points on the importance of public notices in newspapers.

n Publishing notices in a newspaper and its website ensures that the government's public notices are distributed by means totally independent of government.

n Newspapers provide order, accuracy and reliability in this important content, along with objectivity.

n Government bodies can provide little assurance that their websites will be consistently reliable, available, permanent or secure.

n When government fails to publish on its website or does not function properly, there are serious legal consequences for the failure to properly publish public notice for both government and citizens.

n There are no legal standards and/or requirements being proposed as to how government must post public notices on their websites. Frankly, there is no real incentive for government to get the job done right.

n Public notices in the print of newspapers provide a permanent record of what a public body does as well as the notification of what it intends to do. There is no archival history to government websites as there is with newspapers.

n In addition to publishing public notices in print, the West Central Tribune and other Minnesota newspapers publish the public notices on their respective websites without charge. In December alone, the Tribune's website wctrib.com received 1.2 million page views and more than 95,000 unique visitors. Simply, wctrib.com is the top local website in Willmar.

n Finally, Christianson has been advocating recently for the city to seek private business options wherever possible to address city needs. His proposal to remove the city's public notice function from private business -- a newspaper -- and turn it over to government does not ring true with his previous statements. This is especially true since the West Central Tribune has successfully published city public notices for decades.

Christianson's public notice proposal appears to be counterintuitive to his espoused conservative principals. His proposal to govermentize Willmar's public notices does not follow his private business preference or his anti-government philosophy.

This proposal by Christianson is simply bad public policy, which would only lead to hindering good open government and accountability in the city of Willmar.

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