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Keep government accountable

It is 2021 in Wisconsin, do you know what your local government is doing?

If the backers of a new attack on government accountability have their way, finding out what school, city, county and technical college governing boards are doing with your hard-earned tax dollars will get much more difficult.

A pair of companion bills, SB55 and AB60, will, if passed into law, allow local governments to stop publishing the minutes of government meetings in local newspapers.

Backers of the legislation claim dropping the publication requirement will be a cost savings to those governments. However, the true motive beind the measure is not fiscal responsibility, but rather a desire to hide what government is up to.

Any cost savings will be more than eaten up by web-hosting fees and staff time, since the bill’s language would require each government to duplicate a service that is currently provided by newspapers at no cost to local government.

The state’s newspapers through already provide a one-stop location, where anyone may search and view all public notices in the state. The newspaper industry provides the public notice website at no cost to government - and as a public service to the citizens of Wisconsin.

Not only will local governments not save money from the proposed legislation, but with the elimination of independent third-party oversight of government, taxpayers could see all manner of other mischief occur.

The vast majority of people in local government are honest, hardworking and seek only to serve the public good. However, there are others who would seek to ride the government gravy train to benefit themselves and their cronies.

The publication and archiving of meeting minutes by newspapers, as independent third-party organizations, have proved effective for decades, in providing citizens with the tools needed to hold government accountable.

Given the ease and speed at which information on the internet can be manipulated for malicious motives, having governments serve as the sole custodian of meeting minutes is a recipe for fostering distrust in local government at best, and at worst, wholesale corruption at the expense of local taxpayers.

Newspapers are the only form of notification that provides the necessary verification, certification and archiving, that ensures that taxpayers’ rights are protected and preserved.

The timing and rapid pace of the legislation are also suspect. The senate bill was introduced on Feb. 2, and was pushed through committee in under two weeks’ time, to be voted on by the full senate. The assembly bill was introduced on Feb. 12, with the intent to have an equally rapid review.

The rapid pace of these bills stands in stark contrast to the slow pace of bills to provide relief to businesses, industry and taxpayers, or the glacially slow efforts to actually fix the state’s broken unemployment system.

Contact Sen. Kathy Bernier and Reps. Donna Rozar and Jesse L. James and tell them to oppose this legislation that seeks to limit accountability and open the door to corruption.