Don't hide public business

Don't hide public business

April 26th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

Once again, some Tennessee lawmakers are taking steps that could reduce the public's awareness of important information.

You may already know about proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would let local governments remove legal ads - public notices of government actions and meetings - from the Times Free Press and run them instead on government websites that hardly anyone reads. And there is a legislative effort to allow government agencies to charge "actual labor costs" when someone requests public records and it takes the agency longer than one hour to comply with that request.

Those proposals are touted as attempts to save tax dollars. But if passed, they will result in the public being less aware of the actions of government. If a person thinks he may have to pay labor costs to view public documents, he might not even request the records. And ads on obscure government websites hardly promote government transparency.

But a new bill would leave many in the dark about foreclosures, too. At present, lenders must run three foreclosure notices on a property that is in default. Borrowers also get a certified letter before the process starts.

The proposed bill would require only one newspaper notice, and the ad would not necessarily include a clear description and address of the property, noted Greg Sherrill, executive director of the Tennessee Press Association. Readers might be referred to a deed book at a government office for a full description.

That would limit public awareness of foreclosures. That's troubling, because foreclosures not only affect a borrower but his neighbors, too.

Tennessee's foreclosure system is already relatively cheap for lenders, Sherrill told the Free Press editorial page. That's because it's one of only five states that don't require court proceedings before a foreclosure.

Replacing clear, multiple notices of foreclosures with vague, single notices is not in the public interest.

This bill should be defeated.