I will start this column off with my own personal disclaimer – my views don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Navasota Examiner and I acknowledge a professional conflict of interest as a reporter for this publication.
Two state representatives and our own SD 18 senator Lois Kolkhorst have filed bills related to posting public notices by government entities. In addition, an identical companion bill to Sen. Kolkhorst’s has been filed in the House. All bills were filed by Republicans. I know some of our elected officials are giddy at the prospect of advertising government activities on the cheap. You folks reading this newspaper are seasoned enough to understand there’s more to feel-good legislation than meets the eye.
If you don’t regularly peruse the public notices like I do and aren’t sure what this legislation refers to, I’ll share a few examples: the solicitation of sealed bids for Navasota’s fire hydrant replacement project, the district clerk’s notice of a foreclosure suit, the county’s solicitation of bids for a new banking institution, the ESD public hearing, the public hearing about a proposed truck stop adjacent to a residential neighborhood – you get my drift. These notices relate to your government’s possible action on something which could affect your pocketbook, your neighborhood or community.
One of the reasons I’m opposed, and using Grimes County as an example, is I don’t see this is as a savings to the County in the long run. If Rep. Shaheen’s bill passes in its present form, the County will have to track the “effectiveness” of digital publication as opposed to newspaper publication and share that data with the state comptroller’s office. Having observed County government for years now, I can assure you that someone from the department charged with the tracking will come before commissioners court asking for a part-time employee or a grade change aka salary increase for their employee who got stuck with the job – which if you recall is purportedly being done to reach more people and conserve taxpayer dollars.
The most sinister to me, however, is the ease with which digital media can be altered. I see doors opening to corruption and manipulation in the bid process and who knows what else.
When there is an error in the print edition of a newspaper, it’s there for eternity. In the Examiner’s case, we have access to every mistake since 1894! For example, if neither I nor the Examiner proofreaders catch my clerical or factual error, I can have it corrected in the digital copy and readers are none the wiser. It’s this ability to change digital copy without a paper trail, without history that lends itself to corruption and manipulation when it comes to parameters for bids, for instance. A few keystrokes and a word or phrase is gone – like it was never there. Sort of like Covid amnesia.
Our own county attorney, Jon C. Fultz, has cautioned the court about changes to the bid process after the fact which could invite litigation – just think what could ensue if a bidder alleged manipulation of online data.
I’m not knowledgeable enough to predict if such a move will result in a broader reach but during this grand experiment, there will be precious print medias that will go out of business – and that hurts my soul.
We are rising from the ashes of media and government manipulation by Facebook and Twitter, thanks to Elon Musk. Google remains a stumbling block to finding information which doesn’t fit its narrative. And yet our legislators and elected officials want to rely on digital media and websites for the publication of public notices affecting its citizen’s pocketbooks and way of life. To me this is another example of penny-wise and pound-foolish. The good thing is that since this is in print form, future generations will be able to read just how right or wrong I am!
The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Connie Clements. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.
Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and an award-winning columnist.