A top Indiana newspaper trade group official is making a salient point regarding a state agency seemingly ignoring a strong public desire for transparency.
"If you sought input on a proposal, and 551 out of 553 people rejected the idea, you'd probably drop the project," Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director Steven Key observes in the group's May newsletter.
"That's not the case with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management."
The state environmental regulation agency recently sought public comments on a proposed rule change that would allow IDEM to stop publishing in newspapers the notices of companies applying for air quality permits.
The Hoosier State Press Association obtained copies of the emails sent to IDEM commenting on the proposed change, and a defining 551 out 553 rejected the proposal.
IDEM is now soliciting additional input when the agency should be scrapping the idea.
The agency is considering merely posting the application notices on its website, but that's not holistic public exposure.
A website containing the pages of such notices averaged 105 total visitors per week during a press association check of traffic in 2012.
Last year, American Opinion Research found 3 million Hoosier adults read a printed newspaper during an average week — and 63 percent of Indiana residents believe government agencies should be required to publish public notices in local newspapers.
The New Jersey-based market research firm also found six out of 10 adult Hoosiers reported reading public notice advertising.
By those counts, some 1.8 million Hoosiers have the opportunity to read public notices every week, versus 105 perusing the IDEM website.
Government has a responsibility to provide vital public information in the most broad and transparent ways possible.
Eliminating the publication of public notices in local newspapers flies in the faith of that concept, and its supporting math.
It also runs afoul of public opinion.
It's time for IDEM to scrap the proposed rule change.