A foolish proposal
Marion County Commission on Monday discussed doing something that they should find out pretty quickly is illegal. Commissioner Dan Holub proposed publishing only summaries of ordinances in the county’s official newspaper for legal publications — the Marion County Record — and posting full text on the county website, which would theoretically save the county money.
But in Kansas, only cities have the authority to publish ordinance summaries, and they can only do so under specific circumstances. Even then, it isn’t a particularly good idea, as the City of Marion may find out if anyone challenges the zoning regulations revised in June.
The city published a summary in the newspaper, referring readers to the city’s website for the full text of the ordinance. But in Section 27-5, the ordinance itself says it doesn’t go into effect until the ordinance — not a summary — is published once in the official city newspaper. In an effort to either save money or perhaps stick it to an independent news source with the audacity to question the city’s actions, the city created a loophole so large even a train could go through it at 49 mph.
The legal notice that Holub singled out as an expense — the delinquent tax list — isn’t even under the purview of the commission. The delinquent tax list is the sole responsibility of the county treasurer.
In any event, publication of the delinquent tax list doesn’t cost the county — people named on the list are also assessed a fee to cover the cost of publication. And the threat of being named as a tax deadbeat is one of the best ways to get people to actually pay their taxes. Every year, this newspaper receives several calls from people who say they got their back taxes paid after the first publication — how many more pay their back taxes without calling the paper? The county doesn’t spend money to publish delinquent tax lists; it makes money.
According to the Pew Research Center, the following groups do not have Internet access:
- 62 percent of people 65 or older.
- 61 percent of people with less than high school education.
- 40 percent of people with household incomes less than $30,000 per year.
That adds up to a substantial portion of Marion County taxpayers, people who would never have access to public notices explaining how their money is spent if Holub succeeds in hiding them on some website he controls. It would be a direct assault on seniors, the less educated, and the less affluent.
The advantage of publishing public notices where the public is already looking is that it maximizes the number of citizens who are able to see them. Putting them online means only those who know to look — and have the technical skills to find them — will ever see what the county is up to. And allowing government to control websites that house public notices makes it possible for government to change them at any time with no tracking and no proof that everyone visiting the site sees the same things the same way.
Holub is trying to score cheap political points, suggesting that paying a critic of the county’s mistakes to publish legal notices is a waste of taxpayer money. But the upshot is that Holub — the first person to point out any Democrat’s political affiliation — wants us to trust that Big Government knows best.
— ADAM STEWART