State Reps. Tom McCall, Micah Gravley, Alan Powell, Robert Trammell and Barry Fleming are supporting a bill that could damage the public’s ability to hold local government accountable. 

House Bill 322 is bad for the people of Georgia and must be rejected by the General Assembly.

The bill has made its way through the House.

Cities and counties in Georgia must publish public notices for any bids or proposals that exceed $10,000. These lawmakers want to raise the threshold for requiring those public notices to $100,000 in many cases.

Even $10,000 is a lot of money for most Georgia communities and $100,000 is a big chunk out of many city and county budgets across the state.

Their bill would allow, but not require, the information to be published in the newspaper and few people are naive enough to think that government officials will go beyond what they are required to do when it comes to providing public notices.

These lawmakers could have taken this as an opportunity to make sure that public notices will also be found where the public is most likely to see them, in the legal organ. When local governments place public notices in the local newspaper the advertisements are prominently displayed in the printed editions so readers can easily find out what government is doing. The ads are also placed online and can be searched in a very easy to navigate statewide database maintained by the Georgia Press Association. That site can be found at: georgiapublicnotice.com.

Giving local governments the option of either placing a notice of public bids on a government website or in a newspaper has never been a good idea.

The issue is all about the public’s right to know.

Every lawmaker should be wary of any measures that would erode the public’s right to know. 

It is a dangerous, and disturbing, precedent to set. 

Every penny government spends comes from the public’s purse. 

We have a right to know how and when taxpayer dollars are being spent. 

Public notices should be placed where the public will notice.

Burying information on a government website is essentially worthless.

To find out about government spending a person has to know exactly what they are looking for, exactly what it is called, exactly what site it was posted to and exactly when it was posted.

If a county or city is about to spend $80K on some pork barrel project, the community has every right and need to know and local governments should be completely transparent, especially when they are spending our money. 

That’s how we keep government in check and hold elected officials accountable.

If this ill-conceived measure passes, it will allow cities, counties, authorities, commissions and boards to spend up to $99,999 without having to inform the public ahead of time. 

This measure would be an erosion of Georgia’s open government laws, an affront to transparency and a disservice to the people of Georgia.

We encourage the Senate to soundly reject this poorly conceived piece of legislation and vote “no” on House Bill 322. 

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, regional editor for CNHI newspapers in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas and editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. 

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