In 2014, then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a law passed by the Indiana legislature that eliminated newspaper notice of local government budgets. Before the law was enacted, all local government units in Indiana — from cities and counties to libraries and conservation districts — were required to publish their annual budget proposals and estimated tax rates in a local newspaper.
Now they are only required to post them on the website of the state’s Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF), which was one of the main proponents of the new law.
In a recent article in Columbia Journalism Review, Liena Zagare and Ben Smith argue that local governments should move public notice and other civic advertising from newspapers to local-news websites like Zagare’s BKLYNER.
To buttress their case, they claim that a newspaper in their borough, the Brooklyn Eagle, recently had “three of its 12 pages entirely covered” by advertising designed to “make sure taxpayers see how their money is being spent, and to prevent officials from hiding corrupt deals.” But those three pages of advertising in the Eagle were placed by law firms, not public officials. And its purpose was to provide official notice of courtroom process, not public spending. That’s a pretty glaring mistake. Surely, CJR would want to correct the record, right?
Legislation that would fundamentally alter public notice laws has been introduced in 21 states in 2017, and several of those bills once had real momentum. But with Memorial Day now behind us, 36 state legislatures have already adjourned and not a single one of those formerly worrisome bills is close to passage.
The latest threat to subside was in Missouri, where newspapers had been nervous about two separate bills that were reported out of committee. One would have moved municipal notices to government websites and the other threatened to shift foreclosure notices to websites operated by law firms. The clock ran out on both bills when the legislature adjourned in mid-May.
As we noted last month, Maine Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t like the newspapers in his state. There’s now evidence to suggest his disgust for print-based local journalism provokes him to stake out irrational positions on public notice bills.
In April, LePage vetoed a bill requiring newspapers to continue posting public notices on their own websites at no extra cost to the state. The veto was counterintuitive but it had an internal logic. LePage doesn’t believe in half measures. He is convinced that newspapers are dying but he’s an impatient man, so he wants to do all he can to hasten their demise.
The Anne Arundel (Maryland) County Council is considering legislation proposed by its Department of Public Works that would allow public notice for right-of-way purchases, road abandonment, and petitions to extend water and sewer services, to be published on its website. The bill would also eliminate the current requirement that department officials post a sign on the affected property or publish two notices in a local newspaper.
This is a minor local issue that normally wouldn’t merit the attention of a national audience.
But a statement made by the county’s public works director to the Capital Gazette caught our attention. It perfectly encapsulates the bureaucratic perspective on public notice.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (photo on left) dislikes the papers in his state so intensely he vetoed a bill last month requiring them to continue to post public notices on their own websites at no extra charge to the state. Overwhelming majorities in the legislature overrode his veto the following week.
Tell that to Moore County Tax Administrator Gary Briggs, whose office recently collected 60 percent of the $1.37 million it was owed by delinquent taxpayers after publishing their names in the local newspaper, The Pilot.
Briggs published the list on March 8 as a 12-page special section in The Pilot, at a cost of $8,000. A month later his office had collected almost $821,000 of its outstanding tax debt, according to The Pilot.
Legislation that would authorize radio and television station websites to publish public notices in Nevada has become a serious threat to newspapers in the state, according to the Nevada Press Association (NPA). Senate Bill 218 would establish broadcaster websites as an alternative to newspapers for all legislatively mandated notices in the state, including foreclosure and other private-party notices.
The following is a letter to the editor of the Longmont (Colo.) Times-Call published on the newspaper’s website on March 9.
To the Editor:
What is public notice 02-2017-14 published on March 3, 2017, about? Vacation? What is a PUD? Where is Blue Vista? How can anyone be expected to make comments or decisions based on a map that is printed so small that it is unreadable — it could have been in Swahili for all it is worth.
At its March 23 meeting, the Empire State Development Board of Directors was discussing a Staten Island development project when the issue of public notice arose. The board had satisfied its statutory obligation by posting notice of the project in the New York Daily News, but had received complaints that notice should also have been published in the Staten Island Advance.
During a brief discussion of the matter, Director Robert Dyson (on far right in photo) encouraged the Board to exceed the legislative mandate by publishing notices of its projects in multiple newspapers. “We should endeavor to make sure we never hear … that people didn’t get enough notice,” said Dyson, who later added, “It’s not a costly thing” to run public notices in newspapers.