The Public Notice Resource Center filed comments early last month urging the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to reconsider its recent proposal to eliminate the newspaper notice requirement for certain permits issued under the Clean Air Act (CAA). IDEM’s proposal cited last year’s decision by the EPA to discontinue mandatory newspaper notice for such permits at the federal level. That new rule opened the door for EPA state affiliates like IDEM to follow suit.
PNRC argued that Indiana newspapers and their websites are far more effective at providing official notice than IDEM’s website. It also cautioned that highly publicized controversies at state environmental agencies in Michigan and Arkansas demonstrate that few citizens ever see notices posted on government websites.
The failure to publish proper notice is rarely punished, so it was surprising to see local officials in Maine and Illinois recently relieved of their positions as a result of breakdowns in the public notice process. The sacked officials compounded their problems with other missteps, but notice issues were at the center of both dismissals.
In Maine, Stephen Beckert was removed from his position as chairman of the Eliot Planning Board on Sept. 14 after an investigation found the board consistently failed to publish newspaper notice of its public hearings. Beckert’s dismissal was the culmination of three years of conflict with a handful of local residents, particularly citizen watchdogs Michele and Jay Meyer (pictured above). During that period, the Meyers regularly attended Planning Board meetings and “became involved in several high-profile board cases and actions,” according to the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald.
Rockingham County’s Board of Commissioners last month approved a referendum asking the state legislature to allow all government units in Rockingham to publish public notices on the county’s official website rather than in local newspapers.
The resolution specifically referenced the General Assembly’s passage two weeks earlier of Sen. Trudy Wade’s (R-Guilford) Senate Bill 181, which authorized neighboring Guilford County to move all public notices in the county from newspapers to its official website. Wade’s bill was almost identical to House Bill 205, an earlier measure she backed that passed the legislature this summer but was swiftly vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper (D). However, unlike HB 205, Wade’s latest effort to eliminate newspaper notice was drafted as a veto-proof “local” bill.
North Carolina State Sen. Trudy Wade’s battle to eliminate public notice in newspapers is set to move to a new front this week. According to the News & Record, the state legislature is expected to consider a local version of her public notice bill when it reconvenes on Wednesday.
Wade’s previous public notice bills have been state legislation. Even her measure that was vetoed in July by Gov. Roy Cooper — which had been amended minutes before it passed to focus solely on Guilford County — was a North Carolina bill. Like that bill, her latest effort would affect only Guilford County, but it has been written as a piece of local legislation. Local legislation can’t be vetoed by the governor.
Two recent national studies clearly indicate that many people read public notices in their local newspapers. The studies also show that newspapers remain a far more effective medium for public notice than government websites.
Susquehanna Polling and Research’s survey of 1,000 U.S. households, commissioned by the National Newspaper Association (NNA), asked two questions of direct interest to policymakers focused on public notice issues. The first question asked respondents to indicate on a scale of one to seven how often they read public notices in their community newspaper, where one equals “never” and seven means “very often”. The mean score of their response was 3.93, with a full 21 percent saying they read notices in the paper “very often” and 81 percent indicating implicitly they read newspaper notices at least some of the time.
The Aug. 30 issue of the (Scranton, Pa.) Times-Tribune featured a story by public-notice reporting wiz Jim Lockwood about the annual “upset sale” of tax delinquent properties in Lackawanna County. The story was prompted by a six-page notice in the paper listing 1,883 properties for which delinquent taxes are owed to the county.
The story includes comments from the public official responsible for placing the notice. Here’s what he told Lockwood, who won PNRC’s Public Notice Journalism Award in 2015 and came in second in last year’s contest.
The winning entry in PNRC’s 2016 Public Notice Journalism contest was Ken Little’s story in the Greeneville (Tenn.) Sun about the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) decision to terminate its provider agreement with the John M. Reed Health & Rehabilitation facility in Limestone.
In this year’s contest, third place went to a similar story — Victor Parkin’s coverage in The Mirror-Exchange of CMS’s closure of Milan Health Care and the $2 million in fines subsequently levied against the Gibson County nursing home by the federal government and the state of Tennessee.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bad public notice bill is safe for now.
The state’s legislature adjourned for the year on Aug. 31 without ever having voted whether to overturn the governor’s veto of HB 205, Sen. Trudy Wade’s (R-Guilford) apparent effort to punish the newspapers in her district.
North Carolina State Senator Trudy Wade (R-Greensboro, photo on left) heeded that advice and last week finally succeeded in passing a bill that makes government less transparent.
After her two previous efforts to move public notice in the state from newspapers to government websites failed, in March Wade introduced another sweeping revision of the state’s public notice laws. When her bill stalled in the House, as it had in the previous legislative session, Wade didn’t give up.