Editorial: Stay transparent online and in print

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 11:51 am

If you have a computer with Internet access, you have a clear window into the budgetary workings of Hanover County.
That is the ruling by the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, which recently placed Hanover second among 134 cities and counties in Virginia for online accessibility to its operating budget.

Hanover should be proud of this feat; its score of 49 out of 50 points puts it above all of the greater-Metro region localities. Only the City of Fairfax ranked higher in Virginia.

The VCOG ranked localities by how many mouse clicks it takes to reach a city’s or county’s spending plan. A link to Hanover’s 2013 approved budget is on the county’s homepage, so, obviously, one click suffices.

The way government interacts with its citizens is changing in the digital age. The Internet has helped streamline many government services in a way that benefits both the citizen and the locality. Citizens can view their real estate assessment information online. They can also pay their taxes, buy dog tags or apply for a building permit. Most of us who have stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew our registration welcome the opportunity to complete the same menial task online in the comfort of our homes.

While Hanover scores points for transparency online, we hope that the county will not join the bandwagon of counties seeking to eliminate advertising public notices in their local newspaper of record, which in Hanover, is us. Some counties contend that placing public notices on their website gives citizens sufficient notice that an elected or appointed body plans to meet. For some, this is true. But not all Hanover County residents have a computer or high-speed Internet access. They do, however, have a mailing address.

So far, four bills aimed at stripping public notices from newspapers have been filed for consideration during the upcoming General Assembly. More will likely come. The Herald-Progress will join newspapers across the state in opposing legislation that, in effect, disenfranchises rural citizens or those who lack a computer with Internet access.

The Internet has opened the floodgates for how citizens can interact with their government. Those with a computer can complete almost every service that in the past had to either be done face-to-face or by mail. Some, undoubtedly, still prefer the old-fashioned way of doing things. The same demographic also probably enjoys keeping up with its local government in the pages of the Herald-Progress, Hanover County’s paper of record since 1881. Don’t take that away from them.

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