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EDITORIAL: APPLAUSE / A PAUSE

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EDITORIAL: APPLAUSE / A PAUSE
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

This is a monthly feature of our Columns & Commentary page, in which we either applaud a person, group or event for something positive that we feel is worthy of a little credit (Applause), and/or address something that gives us pause; something that we feel deserves to be addressed in a public forum like the newspaper (A Pause). We welcome rebuttals and feedback. Applause / A Pause expresses the collective opinions of the Perham Focus editorial staff. It is published in the first issue of every month.

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APPLAUSE to everyone who brushed off their goosebumps and braved the cold for Perham Kinship’s fifth annual polar plunge fundraiser. More than 75 people, most of them from the Perham area, stepped up to the edge of the ice and leapt into the freezing waters of Little Pine Lake on Feb. 8, ultimately raising more than $15,000. The money will be used to help pair up local kids in need with adult mentors.

A PAUSE to the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners for their apparent willingness to remove public notices from their legal newspapers.

While Minnesota legislators were still debating whether or not it would be OK for local governments to pull such notices from their papers, our county board members were quickly passing a resolution to show their support of the idea.

The resolution, dated Feb. 4, was adopted by a unanimous vote. It showed the board’s support of two bills that were being considered, HF 1286 and SF 1152, which, if passed, would have allowed cities and counties to publish public notices – meeting minutes, budget summaries, dates of upcoming public hearings, etc. – on their websites.

Publishing them in newspapers, as is currently mandated by law, would no longer be required.

On the surface, the idea seems to make some sense: it would save local governments money that they currently spend to get those notices in print; plus, the internet has become a go-to source of information for a lot of people, so why not direct those people to the internet for this particular information?

Well, there are some good reasons why not.

First (and this one is especially pertinent in rural areas), there are still a lot of people who don’t have reliable access to the internet. Twenty-eight percent of Minnesotans, in fact, have no access. Those who do can attest to the vastly varying quality of different websites. Public notices might be posted in a clear and timely way on one city’s website, but may be posted late and hidden behind a series of  confusing ‘clicks’ on another. Who will oversee every city and county’s site to ensure that the notices are readable, and are posted when they need to be?

Right now, newspapers serve as a go-between to help hold local governments accountable, and the process ensures the public’s right-to-know.

Moving public notices out of newspapers and onto government websites would give local governments sole responsibility and control over the dissemination of its notices, without any involvement or oversight from a medium that’s independent of the government.

As a recent editorial in the Alexandria Echo Press stated, “Public notices should be public, and they should be noticeable. Cutting the newspaper out of this process does neither.”

At a hearing on Feb. 26 in front of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, the Minnesota Newspaper Association and newspaper professionals from across the state effectively made their points, and legislators tabled a decision on the matter. It’s unlikely that the issue will be taken up again this year.

However, we’d be willing to bet that this isn’t the last we’ve heard about the issue. History has a way of repeating itself.

If or when this does come up again, we hope our county commissioners will reconsider before supporting something that, ultimately, amounts to less government transparency and a step backward for the public’s right-to-know.

APPLAUSE to crew members of the Perham Fire District. Firefighters responded to a record 163 fires or other emergencies last year, according to numbers released in February. This kept them unusually busy and on their toes. On average, 16 firefighters were called out to each incident. Yet there were no reports of any serious injuries to firefighters at the scene of any fire – evidence of a job well done.

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