Fred Hartman | Hartman Newspapers L.P.
One of the big issues that practically all Texas politicians claim to support is open government, but unfortunately, in many cases they’re only paying lip service.
Last month, I was among Texas newspaper representatives in the state Senate interim committee working group that is looking into how to reduce costs for governmental agencies that run public notices for procurement. State law requires these notices to be published in newspapers of general circulation.
Newspapers make a small amount of advertising revenue from procurement notices, but we’ve always felt the larger purpose is informing citizens how their cities, counties and school districts spend tax dollars.
Procurement notices are required to be published two times in the county where the governmental entity is located. In addition to that, newspapers also publish the same information on their websites at no extra charge.
Cities, counties and school districts would like to see the law changed to where these notices would have to only be published once, but newspapers think the current law passed in the early 1970s is working just fine.
Cities, counties and school districts claim that reducing the number of publication times would save tax dollars, but if truth be told, they would rather put legal notices on their respective websites and never publish any notices in a newspaper.
The problem with this position is people don’t go to governmental websites to see what local governments are doing. They go to an independent voice, such as their community’s newspaper or even that paper’s website, to insure the information they get is accurate. The fox shouldn’t get to guard the henhouse.
If the law didn’t require newspaper notices, fewer people would know what is going on. As we’ve seen from history, a lack of sunshine can lead to all sorts of bad things such as graft and corruption.
The most belligerent of the anti-notice bunch is the Texas Municipal League, the lobby group representing more than 1,121 Texas cities. It has a long history of bellyaching about measures that make government more transparent and responsible to citizens.
Even though a small amount of money is spent with newspapers on procurement notices, the TML wrote on its website that newspapers are the real “taxpayer funded lobby” following the meeting that I referenced above.
This statement shows a lot of nerve by an organization that generates its revenue from the tax dollars of member cities. The organization also states on its website that it doesn’t use any member fees to conduct its lobbying efforts, either. That doesn’t exactly sound credible.
If TML had its way, it would do away with other public notices that deal with such important issues as annexations, zoning and tax increases.
Its leadership thinks current laws are outdated. Newspapers beg to differ.
As some of my colleagues in the newspaper business have correctly stated, TML has long been one of the most consistent and effective opponents of open government in Texas.
TML tends to forget that the people who pay their dues are employees of the taxpayers. And the taxpayers want to know how their money is being spent.
Fred Hartman is vice chairman of Hartman Newspapers L.P., which owns and operates 12 community newspapers in Texas. He can be reached at
Texas Press Association member newspapers have permission to reprint this column.