Of Record 2015

November 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Wisconsin, California papers report on public notice
The Hudson Star-Observer of River Falls, Wisconsin, has used a public notice it carried within its printed pages as part of its reporting on a story on the local water utility’s plan to eliminate plumbing connections that could contaminate the community’s water supply.

“According to a public notice that will be published in the Oct. 8 Star-Observer, the [Department of Natural Resources] performed ‘a detailed inspection and evaluation’ of Hudson’s drinking water system … and found that a portion of the cross-connection deficiencies … hadn’t been corrected,” Randy Hanson reports.

Meanwhile, Sandy Feretto, a reporter at the Redwood Times in Garberville, California, has reported on a public notice in that newspaper’s pages regarding a draft medical marijuana land use ordinance which appeared in the newspaper. “In addition to the public notice on the ordinance published in the Times-Standard on Sunday, Oct. 4, a notice of intent to adopt a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for medical marijuana land use ordinance was posted, and comments are being accepted,” Feretto wrote.

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring, in partnership with state newspaper associations, the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest. The 2014 contest was won by Jim Lockwood, staff writer for The Times-Tribune of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who won for his coverage of a proposed new commuter tax. Lockwood’s story referred readers to the dates of the notices so they could read the notices themselves.
Water utility targets plumbing cross-connections – Hudson Star-Observer (River Falls, Wisconsin) (10.2.2015)
Marijuana land use ordinance hearing Nov. 5 – Redwood Times (Garberville, California) (10.12.2015)

Public notice demonstrates the power of newspapers
The Sierra Vista (Arizona) Herald has partnered with the town of Bisbee to demonstrate the power of newspapers: Instead of printing its “typical public notice offering colorful listings of business incorporations, bankruptcies and other public transactions … the Herald/Review dedicated the top of its front page to a list of Bisbee sanitation customers long overdue on their bills,” the paper explained in an editorial.

Six months after the story was published, Bisbee has collected more than 32% of its outstanding sanitation bill, a total of $416,561. The town’s finance director, Sharon Buono, said that the newspaper is the most effective media in creating awareness of the city’s former $1.4 million accounts receivable balance.

“That has really made the difference in getting people to come in and work with us on making some kind of payment on past due balances,” Buono told the newspaper.
The value of public notice – Sierra Vista (Arizona) Herald (10.25.2015)

Chancery clerk: Legal ads show proof in black and white
In a world where local governments are all-to-quick to declare the virtue of putting public notices on government websites, Josh Edwards, a writer at The Vicksburg (Mississippi) Post has found an ally for the printed word in the local government’s chancery clerk. Donna Hardy, who spoke to Edwards about public notices, told him that “publication by print, at least in the legal world, is the most important because it’s there in black and white.”

Edwards spoke to a number of people for his story on the importance of public notices, including Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association. “Newspapers have for centuries been the trusted third-party watchdog on behalf of citizens,” Bruce said.

Hardy noted that public notices are highly scrutinized by lawyers and government clerks prior to publication. “When you don’t publicize it correctly, you’ve opened the door to be challenged,” she said.
Legal ads show proof in black and white – The Vicksburg (Mississippi) Post (10.6.2015)

Colorado town votes to put some public notices on town website
Castle Rock, Colorado, residents have voted in favor of changing the Castle Rock Home Rule Charter to allow public notices of ordinances to be posted on the town’s website instead of being published in a newspaper, according to sidebar data accompanying a story about the November vote.

The Douglas County (Colorado) News-Press reported the vote to publish public notices on the town’s website as data only, reporting in a sidebar to a story about the election that 64.79% of voters were in favor of the ballot measure. The newspaper did editorialize against the measure prior to the vote. (See the October issue of of Record.)
Residents vote to move Castle Rock municipal elections to November (see sidebar) – Douglas County News-Press, Highlands Ranch, Colorado (11.9.2015)
Editorial: Vote no on change to legal notices in Castle Rock – Douglas County News-Press, Highlands Ranch, Colorado (10.14.2015)

South Carolina AG confirms notices must be printed in the newspaper
In response to a request by a local town attorney, the South Carolina Attorney General’s office has confirmed through a written opinion that legal notices must be “published in a printed newspaper of general circulation.”

Williamston town attorney G. Lee Cole had asked the AG’s office whether town news sites that exist solely online would be considered within the statutes and regulations of legal notice requirements.

An editorial in the Powdersville Post explained why the opinion is important: “Had the Attorney General’s office allowed it, the opinion would have set a legal precedent that allowed for all legal ads to be posted online – and only online, without ever having to be run in a traditional paper. In effect, the AG’s opinion has reaffirmed the necessity for published newspapers and their continuing role in an ever more digital society, for the time being anyway.”
Online legal ads? Not so fast. – Powdersville Post (Easley, South Carolina) (11.5.2015)
Download the attorney general’s opinion here.


State Legislation
See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Government Notices
New Jersey: A 2399 – substitute introduced (2014 bill) – Permits local governments and schools to move notices to the Web and publish only a summary of the notice.
Wisconsin: SB 346 – referred to Committee – Eliminate newspaper notice of hearings by Wisconsin Supreme Court when considering a new rule or changing an existing rule regulating pleading, practice or procedure.

Publish & Post
Massachusetts: HB 1566 – referred to Committee (previously passed House)

UELMA
Massachusetts: HB 43 – referred to Committee


Articles & Editorials

Pennsylvania county’s CDBG notices will be in English and German
Public notices for allocations of the Pennsylvania Community Development Block Grant to Mercer County communities will now be in both English and German, The Herald of Sharon, Pennsylvania, has reported.

The bilingual notice is being required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds CDBGs. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) administers the money.

“A couple of years ago, DCED came to the jurisdictions and said to look at census data to reach out to folks who speak a different language,” said Chris Conti, senior planner with the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission, the newspaper reported. Census data from 2010 showed that more than 5% of the residents in East Lackawannock, Lackawannock, Fairview, Lake and Wilmington townships speak German as their primary language, Conti told the newspaer – which is assumed to be Amish residents.

The 5% is why the state is requiring the bilingual public notice for the CDBG money this year, Conti said.
Bilingual notice reflects county’s Amish population – The Herald, Sharon, Pennsylvania (10.18.2015)

Online notices: ‘I guess you can check tomorrow’
In a column for the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, Idaho, editor Scott McIntosh drew attention to what could happen should voters there approve a ballot measure which would move notices of school district elections and budget hearings to the district’s website. It’s worth repeating here:

“If the school district puts notices on its website, how will you know to go check it? When will you go check it? A legal notice could come out on a Monday, a Saturday, a Wednesday or not at all for several weeks. You never know. So under this arrangement, you’re simply going to have to get up every morning, go over to your computer, go to the school district’s website, find the place where they post legal notices and see if there are any that day. No? No legal notices today? Hmm. Maybe they just haven’t posted them yet. Better check in another hour or two. Still nothing? Well, I guess you can check tomorrow. You might have to check every day for a few weeks, though, before you see a legal notice. Then, hopefully, if there is a legal notice posted, you’ll be able to click on it and open it up, that is if the link isn’t broken.”
Why those legal notices in the paper are so important – Idaho Press-Tribune, Nampa, Idaho (11.1.2015)
Castleford School Board Wants to Put Legal Notices Online – Twin Falls (Idaho) Times-News (11.7.2015)

VPA: ‘Keep it in Print’ campaign resonates with readers
The Virginia Press Association’s “Keep It In Print” campaign to persuade Virginia lawmakers to keep the requirement to publish public notices in newspapers is resonating with readers across the state, VPA reported in its weekly online newsletter. From that report:

The VPA has received dozens of calls and emails from readers imploring the General Assembly to use newspapers as the primary vehicle to inform the public of developments involving public money.

Nancy Parr of Roanoke wrote: “I watch television news, but they are inadequate, biased, and repetitive. My local paper is much more diverse and I learn a great deal by reading it…”

Here’s what Eastville Town Council member Eleanor Gordon had to say: “I have many elderly or poor friends without Internet access who would no longer see important governmental business.

And, from Jeremy Galloway of James City County: “There are those of us that do not have computers. We are as good a citizen as any of the young people who seem to think everyone has a computer.”

See the ad here.


October 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC names Thompson to third full term as president
The Public Notice Resource Center (PNRC) has named Bradley L. Thompson II to his third full term as president. Thompson is Bradley Thompsonchairman of Detroit Legal News Company and is a founding board member of PNRC, which was established in 2002.

He is a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is a member of the fifth generation of his family to lead the publicly-traded Michigan company. The Detroit Legal News Co. publishes 10 newspapers in Michigan. Thompson is also chairman of Printing Industries of America and a director of Michigan Press Association. He has a long history of involvement in civic organizations and currently serves as vice chair of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

PNRC is a non-profit organization created by the newspaper industry to collect, analyze, and disseminate information on public and private notifications to the public through local newspapers, and to educate the public on the value and use of its right to know. It is supported by newspaper organizations across the United States.

PNRC also named new officers and directors to an expanded board, which will focus on best practices for public notice in newspapers in an age of both print and digital notices. 

Officers elected were: as vice president, S. Richard Gard Jr, publisher of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin; as treasurer, Scott Sibley, publisher of the Nevada Legal News, Las Vegas, Nevada; and, as secretary, William F. Rector, publisher of The Daily Record, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Directors elected were Michael Kramer, president of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin; Hal Cohen, vice president and group publisher; ALM regionals, New York; and Vahn Babigian, general manager of the Metropolitan News Company, Los Angeles.

Serving ex officio are Eric Barnes, publisher of the Memphis Daily News; Greg Morris, president, IBJ Media/Court and Commercial Record, Indianapolis; Matt Walsh, Editor/CEO of Observer Media Group Inc., Sarasota, FL; and Wayne Curtis, group publisher for American Lawyer Media, Atlanta.

Appointed to represent the National Newspaper Association was Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of the Blackshear (Georgia) Times.

ACCN elects Barnes of Memphis as president
American Court and Commercial Newspapers, Inc. (ACCN), Arlington, Virginia, has elected Eric Barnes, publisher of The Memphis Daily News, as president for 2015-16. Barnes is also publisher of the Nashville Ledger, host of “Behind the Headlines” on WKNO-TV in Memphis and author of several books and short stories.

ACCN also elected Greg Morris, president, IBJ Media/Court and Commercial Record, Indianapolis, as vice president/secretary; Matt Walsh, Editor/CEO of Observer Media Group Inc., Sarasota, Florida, as vice president/treasurer; and Wayne Curtis, group publisher for American Lawyer Media, Atlanta, as vice president/programs.

American Court and Commercial Newspapers was founded in 1930 as the trade organization for legal and commercial newspapers. It is based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Its principal mission is to protect and promote public notice in newspapers. ACCN provides funding for the newspaper industry’s Public Notice Resource Center.

Georgia property tax error illustrates danger of online-only notices
An error in Monroe County, Georgia, property tax bills – in which the county underbilled its residents by some $3 million – illustrates the danger of relying on municipal government websites for information about the government’s doings, says Will Davis, publisher of The Monroe County Register.

In a column published on October 28, Davis tells the tale of the inaccurate tax bills, but more importantly, he also tells of how the county government seemed to evade commenting on the mistake. “Except for the press release sent to us late Friday [after the error was discovered by a taxpayer], the tax office did little to alert the county’s property owners that their just-received tax bills were wrong,” Davis wrote. “There have been no robo-calls to county residents, no postings on the county website or the tax commissioners website.”

Davis sees the lack of communication from the county government on its own websites as a portent of what’s to come if some legislators get their way and allow municipal governments to remove printed public notices from newspapers. “To think that some lawmakers want to let counties handle their own public notices on their websites rather than making them report to newspapers!” he wrote.
Damage control (column) – The Monroe County Times, Forsyth, Georgia (10.28.2015)
County: Do not pay your property tax bill – The Monroe County Times (10.28.2015) | Jump

Canadian governments ‘madly in love with digital’
Newspapers in Canada are facing many of the same challenges with public notices and the internet as are newspapers closer to home.

“The government is moving away from advertising what they do and offer, to this kind of broad brush branding that ‘Canada is great,'” said John Hinds, president and CEO of Newspapers Canada.

According a report by Newspapers Canada, internet spending has gone from less than one percent in the 2002-03 fiscal year to 27 percent in 2013-2014. The increases have been primarily at the expense of advertising in newspapers. Hinds says that this trend is indicative of a government that has “fallen madly in love with digital,” adding that, on the surface, digital makes sense because, unlike automobile companies, the government can’t quantify returns on its investments in advertising.

But, the report notes, it’s not just that the federal government’s preferred media has changed. There has also been a dramatic shift in its strategy for disseminating important information through paid public notices and this change is being imitated by some provincial governments, the Battlesfords (Saskatchewan) News-Optimist reports. “Rather than paying for ad space in newspapers, governments have sharply increased the number of press releases they issue. This is reflected in a two percent decrease in federal spending on public notices in newspapers, as total spending for 2013-14 fell to C$3.4 million (US$2.58 million),” the newspaper reported.

According to Newspapers Canada, many of these press releases are public notices masquerading as news items. Furthermore, many of these releases remain paid public notices on other media, leaving community newspapers to bear the brunt of the federal government’s attempts to reduce their ad spend.

Data collected in 2014 largely mirrors data in the US. Studies found that more than 70 percent of Canadian adults, and more than 75 percent of women, continue to read community newspapers, meaning that newspapers remain one of the most efficient means of reaching citizens – both north and south of the border.
Governments have fallen madly in love with digital – The Battlefords (Saskatchewan) News-Optimist (9.22.2015)

Wisconsin Mayor surprised to see his home on foreclosure notice
The mayor of Cottage Grove was “surprised” to see his home listed in a foreclosure notice published in the South Washington County Bulletin, the newspaper reported in a story following up the notice, which had been published on the newspaper’s website and in its print edition.

“A legal notice of mortgage foreclosure sale posted to the Bulletin website Monday and in this week’s print edition says the home at 7788 Jasmine Ave. owned by Bailey and his wife, Cindy, is in default and is set for a sheriff’s sale Nov. 5,” wrote Scott Wente, the newspaper’s editor.

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring, in partnership with American Court and Commercial Newspapers and state newspaper associations, the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest.

The village mayor told the newspaper that he wasn’t losing his house, and that the notice was the result of a paperwork error between his former mortgage holder and the company which bought his mortgage. “It’s very convoluted,” he told the newspaper.
Cottage Grove mayor: ‘Our house is not going to be foreclosed on’ – South Washington County (Wisconsin) Bulletin (9.23.2015)

‘Fixing’ after the fact is tough, says publisher
Longtime publisher Robert M. Williams, Jr., has taken a Georgia legislator to task for his role in a decision to end the town of Waycross’s efforts to annex 400 acres of land in which it has invested in water and sewer infrastructure.

Rep. Chad Nimmer, writes Williams, at the request of a few Pierce County leaders — elected and un-elected — pushed legislation through the General Assembly to end Waycross’s city limits claim.

“Ultimately, it was the very authority Nimmer looked to for guidance that let him and every resident of our two communities down: the General Assembly’s office of legislative counsel. They’re the ones who advised Nimmer a so-called ‘public notice’ of his legislation was sufficient to alert affected parties. It wasn’t. The so-called ‘notice’ was so vague no one could know what was about to happen and it failed miserably in serving its purpose, to inform affected citizens. The resulting impact has wasted much time and many taxpayer dollars. It’s not the first time legislation has been passed without sufficient knowledge given those affected. It won’t be the last,” Williams wrote in a recent column.

“Georgia’s General Assembly has long been averse to open government and legislators have deliberately undermined public notice more and more over the years. The result is seldom good. Rep. Nimmer now sees clearly how adequate public notice might have helped avoid much of this turmoil and possibly saved thousands in legal fees.”
Williams: ‘Fixing’ after the fact is tough – The Blackshear (Georgia) Times (9.1.2015)

City attorney says telephone poll of council members doesn’t violate law
Joplin, Missouri, city attorney Peter Edwards maintains that there was no violation of the state’s open meetings/records law when he conducted a telephone poll of city council members without public notice, but The Joplin Globe says an attorney for the Missouri Press Association disagrees.

Edwards posted a notice that the council had voted to accept a settlement agreement involving an ethics violation charge. “The city attorney said he contacted council members by telephone and took the vote because there was not time to hold an open meeting on the decision,” the newspaper reported. “He also said that a meeting, if one had been held, would have been conducted in a session closed to the public because it involved communication between the council and the city attorney regarding a settlement matter.”

The newspaper asked Edwards if minutes were kept of the telephone discussions, the city attorney said he memorialized that he conveyed the settlement offers and the votes. The Globe filed an open records request the following day asking for the minutes of the telephone conversations with council members and any emails between council members or between Edwards and the council members regarding the settlement.

Missouri Press Association attorney Jean Maneke told the newspaper that the telephone poll likely violated state law. “The only time you can have all of them on the telephone is if it is not an elected body,” such as an appointed committee, she said. But even then, there would still have to be public notice, she said, and an accommodation for the public to attend.

Edwards, the newspaper says, maintains that he can speak to the council, his client, by telephone at any time, particularly when an emergency arises at a time when City Hall is not open.
City attorney says telephone poll of council was not a violation – The Joplin (Missouri) Globe (9.16.2015)

Des Moines Register: Notice in newspaper alone was not enough
Polk County, Iowa, residents are angry about the public notice they received regarding a soybean processing plant on the east side of Des Moines, an editorial in The Des Moines Register says. “Neighbors of the plant asked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to extend a 30-day period for public comment on [the] request for construction permits,” the editorial says.

The Register called the permit-approval process “convoluted” and said that notice the public – which “was limited to a legal notice published in this newspaper” – was not adequate.

The notice provided a 30-day period for comment; the public hearing on the matter took place on day 28, which gave residents who learned of the construction plans through media coverage of the hearing had only one or two days to make their feelings know. To make matters worse, the DNR told residents at the hearing that the purpose of the meeting was to collect comments, not to answer questions.

“The process for public notice and public hearings is dictated by state and federal regulations. But since that process clearly results in citizens being unable to provide informed comments, the DNR should have immediately agreed to extend its deadline for public input,” the editorial said.
Editorial: DNR didn’t listen to citizens over soy plant – The Des Moines Register (10.2.2015)
Soy processing expansion raises concerns for east side residents – The Des Moines Register (9.24.2015)


State Legislation

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Government Notices
New Jersey: A 2399 – substitute introduced (2014 bill) – Permits local governments and schools to move notices to the Web and publish only a summary of the notice.
Wisconsin: SB 346 – referred to Committee – Eliminate newspaper notice of hearings by Wisconsin Supreme Court when considering a new rule or changing an existing rule regulating pleading, practice or procedure.

Publish & Post
Massachusetts: HB 1566 – referred to Committee (previously passed House)

UELMA
Massachusetts: HB 43 – referred to Committee


Articles & Editorials

PNRC is now accepting entries for the 2015 Public Notice Journalism Award
State press associations are urged to begin reviewing their Better Newspaper Contest entries to nominate stories for the 2015 Public Notice Journalism award. Stories from 2014 or 2015 are eligible. Editorials are not considered. Entries should be news or feature stories that highlight the importance of public notice. Judges give positive weight to the use or linking of the public notice involved when there was one.

Entries may be submitted by email any time before February 1.

The award will be presented in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2016.

North Carolina county cancels meeting, citing need for more public notice
County commissioners in Jackson County, North Carolina, canceled a Sept. 22 public hearing on proposed changes to the county’s steep-slope ordinance, saying they needed to do a better job publicizing the event, the Sylva (N.C.) Herald reported.

The development follows what appeared to be a self-directed decision by permitting and code enforcement director Tony Elders to query a public-notice expert about county advertising requirements.

University of North Carolina School of Government lawyer David Owens told Elders that “it may well be prudent” for the county to adhere to more rigorous public-notice rules for zoning ordinances and not just publish two public notices, the standard for routine hearings, as done in this case.

“I think the potential risk would be if someone later challenged the validity of the new amendments since we did not follow the notice requirements associated with a zoning ordinance,” county manager Chuck Wooten said.
Public hearing is delayed by county – Sylva (N.C.) Herald (9.23.2015)

Chicago-area foreclosure firms shrinking
Two Chicago-area law firms are cutting staff members at a rapid pace, says Crain’s Chicago Business. Chicago-based Pierce & Associates has shed some 200 employees since 2013, while Burr Ridge-based Codilis & Associates has dropped about 100 employees, including seven lawyers.

The firms were particularly busy around 2010 at the peak of the foreclosure crisis. Illinois had a reported 151,000 foreclosures that year, compared to just 73,000 in 2014.

The reduction in staff at the firms suggests that the bulk of foreclosure cases have worked their way through the legal system, Steven Bashaw, a real estate attorney who defends homeowners in foreclosure, told the newspaper.
Headcount shrinks at Chicago-area foreclosure law firms – Crain’s Chicago Business  (10.15.2015)

Colorado town: Online notices are ‘free’
A Colorado newspaper has urged its readers to vote against a measure which would allow the town of Castle Rock’s website to become the only place where the town will publish public notices. The town has told residents that online publication of public notices is “free.”

The Douglas County News-Press told its readers that public notices, when published in a newspaper, are independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable. “Publishing a legal notice in the News-Press is independent from the town and is archived, verified and easily accessible. Plus, the News-Press provides a signed affidavit from the publisher, eliminating any concerns as to whether or not proper access and notice has been given before approving an ordinance. The News-Press also uploads all town legal notices to the newspaper website and to the important, easily-searched statewide legal notice website. All of this would be lost if voters approve 2C,” the editorial said.

The newspaper said that the town has asserted 2C would be a cost-cutting measure. “The Blue Book the town is sending to residents says publishing online at the city would be free. But programmers would need to be hired. Staff members would need to upload the notice to the website, check it, and prove the notice was available on the website for an adequate advanced notice. And, finally, the town would need to be prepared to verify this if questioned. Currently, the News-Press does all of this – and achieves the four key elements of a public notice – for $4,400 per year.”
Editorial: Vote no on change to legal notices in Castle Rock – Douglas County (Colorado)  News-Press (10.14.2015)


August/September 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Few Visit Indiana’s New Online Budget Website
Indiana has started to feel the effects of a bill passed in the state’s 2014 legislative session. The law eliminated the publication requirement that placed state and local budget information in local newspapers in favor of placing them on the state Department of Local Government Finance. The Goshen News reports that only 4,633 unique visitors clicked onto the portion of the DLGF website where local government budgets are posted during the last six months of 2014.

“Paid published notice of the date and time the various [local governments] will allow you to speak out on their budgets is no longer required of these units,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “They now are only required to post the notice at their office location and inform media outlets of meeting times so that editors can determine whether they have a reporter available to cover the public meeting.”
Our View: Indiana legislature is failing us with public notices – Goshen News (9.2.2015)
Indiana state budget notices website

US Copyright Office’s Online Registration Offline for a Week
The United State Copyright Office’s online registration was down for more than a week – from August 28 to September 6 – following a computer failure at the Library of Congress, which operates the Copyright Office in addition to overseeing the national library and providing Congress with research advice.

The Washington Post reported that scheduled maintenance on a data center in the library’s James Madison Building resulted in building-wide power outages. Library officials were unable to restore technology systems, and the office is estimated to have lost at least $650,000 in registration fees during the extended outage.

In March, the Government Accountability Office report was critical of the library’s IT system. “The library does not have a comprehensive process for tracking its IT spending and does not have an accurate inventory of its IT assets,” the report said. “Consequently, the library does not know how much it spends annually on IT or what kinds of equipment it is currently using.”

“This is pretty significant, and we have to do everything to make sure this never happens again,” U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante told the Post. “It’s ridiculous.”

On Sunday morning, Washington time, the Copyright Office posted on its website that its systems had been restored and that it was once again able to accept registration applications electronically.

During the outage, potential copyright applicants were told that they would have to wait until the system was restored – or use the office’s paper-filing system, with a processing time of up to 13 months, or twice as long as e-filing.
Copyright Office’s online registration hasn’t worked for almost a week – Washington Post (9.3.2015)
America’s ‘national library’ is lacking in leadership – Washington Post (3.31.2015)
The March 2015 GAO report

Michigan Press Scores Points in Debate Over ‘Online-only’ Bill
The Michigan Press Association defended itself well in a story over Michigan House Bill 4183, which would require that public notices be published solely online. The bill was postponed on June 18 and has not been taken up since.

Crain’s Detroit Business examined the bill – and how it would affect newspapers and other media sources in the state – in a well-balanced July 5 story. Among other things, the story noted that the bill’s opponents cite “a large swath of the state without reliable Internet or cellphone service” and that “some townships and small cities, especially in rural areas, have rudimentary websites and older populations that still rely on newspapers for information.”

More importantly, perhaps, the newspaper quoted Lisa McGraw, public affairs manager for the Michigan Press Association, as saying that newspapers believe they have an advantage over TV and radio because they have a permanent record built into their business model.

McGraw told the newspaper that MPA doesn’t oppose cities and townships from hosting their own public notices, but that they shouldn’t be the only source.

“People don’t go to local government websites for news. We feel that we’re a better source for this kind of information,” McGraw said. “I just don’t think the broadcasters can do what we do because they can’t provide a print source.”

McGraw also told Crain’s Detroit Business that the revenue newspapers gain from government notices is not significant, but that it might fund a position, particularly at a smaller daily or weekly publication.
Newspapers take notice of legislative threat to revenue – Crain’s Detroit Business (7.5.2015)

Newspaper Consultant Urges: ‘Pay More Attention to Public Notices’
Newspaper design consultant Ed Henninger says that newspapers must pay more attention to the public notices they carry in their pages. Henninger suggests a number of ways to make your public notices more readable for your audience, including adding headlines and art, increasing the type size and designing the page. “That’s not gonna be so easy because you can’t trim the text, as you can with most stories. But if you’re serious about keeping your legal advertising, you can find a way to do it,” Henninger writes.

He also suggests doing something we say frequently: “READ THEM! Often, your news staff will catch wind of a major story just by reading the notices in your own newspaper. Make sure you check the content of legals consistently.”

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring, in partnership with American Court and Commercial Newspapers and state newspaper associations, the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest. The 2014 contest was won by Jim Lockwood, staff writer for The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, who won for his coverage of a proposed new commuter tax. Lockwood’s story referred readers to the dates of the notices so they could read the notices themselves.
Design for Readers (8.2015)

Montana District Court Notes ‘Seniors Do Not Use the Internet’
Montana District Court Judge Jeffrey Langton ruled against Ravalli County Commissioners in a lawsuit brought by the Bitterroot Star over the commissioners’ failure to provide public notice before agreeing to settle a lawsuit stemming from zoning decisions. The commissioners settled the suit with the developer of a subdivision for $675,000.

Langton was critical of the commissioners, noting that the county received a copy of the signed settlement agreement on Tuesday, May 6, and that discussion of the settlement was placed on the agenda for Monday, May 12, but that the agenda was not posted on the county website until 4:30 pm Friday, and that it was not sent to the media until after business hours on Friday. The meeting was scheduled for 8:30 Monday morning.

In regards to the late Friday posting on the web site, Langton wrote: “It is common knowledge that a large number of Montana’s senior citizens live on fixed incomes and do not use the Internet, and that the potential for property tax increases due to the Commission’s approval of the settlement would hold high interest to these citizens.”
Star wins public notice lawsuit against county commissioners – Bitterroot Star, Stevensville, Montana (7.28.2015)

Minnesota Newspaper Association Produces Public Notice House Ads
The Minnesota Newspaper Association has developed a series of print and online house ads for member newspapers to use to promote the association’s public notice website. The ads come in a variety of sizes and include themes about increased property taxes, public works projects and open government.
The Minnesota Newspaper Association’s public notice website
The MNA’s public notice house ads

 

State Legislation

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Government Notices
New Jersey: A 2399 – substitute introduced (2014 bill) – Permits local governments and schools to move notices to the Web and publish only a summary of the notice.

Publish & Post
Massachusetts: HB 1566 – referred to Committee (previously passed House)

UELMA
Massachusetts: HB 43 – referred to Committee


Articles & Editorials

FCC Commissioner Says Internet ‘Not a Necessity’
While the Federal Communications Commission has moved recently on consumer-friendly measures to preserve net neutrality and extend phone subsidies for low-income Americans, one of the FCC’s five commissioners has said that the internet isn’t something Americans need fair and equal access to.

“It is important to note that internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right,” said Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly, speaking in late June to the Internet Innovation Alliance. “People do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives. People can and do live without internet access, and many lead very successful lives.”

Ignoring for a moment that O’Rielly apparently believes that only “many” – but not “most” – people without internet access lead successful lives, it is worth noting that even in the agency charged with regulating the internet, there are those who don’t particularly believe in it. Should this attitude become a prevailing one at the FCC, and should state governments continue to try to pass laws removing public notices from newspapers, the combination could make it virtually impossible for some Americans to know what their state and local governments are doing.
FCC Commissioner Says Internet Access is “Not a Necessity” – Slate.com (6.29.2015)

Tulsa Legals Proofreader Retires After 30 Years
A recent feature highlighting the retirement of a Tulsa Business & Legal News has given us a closer look into to the behind-the-scenes work that goes in to publishing public notices.

Sandy Moore, who worked at the newspaper for 30 years, says that the countless phone calls she has made to lawyers’ offices over the years have been, mostly, appreciated. “I had just started working for [the newspaper] when I caught an error in a legal filed by an Oklahoma City attorney,” she said. “[My supervisor] told me to call their office – collect. The secretary answering the call had a fit and couldn’t imagine anyone from a newspaper placing a collect call to their office. The attorney asked who the call was from and when he found out, he quickly said, ‘My God, put that call through.’”

Moore says that the work has been demanding, and that one day, the newspaper published more than 100 notices. “I couldn’t guess the number of legals that I have read during the past 30 years,” she said.
Sandy Moore retiring after three decades at TB&LN – Tulsa Business & Legal News (6.23.2015)

Lack of Actual Notice Leads School Board to Make Things Up
In a clumsy attempt to confess to and make amends for previous violations of the state Open Meetings Act, the Las Cruces, New Mexico, Public Schools Board of Education appears to have violated the state Open Records Act, the Las Cruces Sun-News says in an editorial.

During a retreat, the board decided to hire an investigator to look into complaints about the district’s alternative middle school, and negotiated a contract, but none of it happened in a public meeting, the newspaper says. Two weeks later, the board defunded the middle school, again without providing notice to the public. To make up for the mistakes, the board then had attorneys draw up public notices that would have been published in local newspapers, and amended the record to reflect a 3-2 vote in favor of hiring an investigator, even though the vote never actually occurred.
Editorial: School Board not yet square with sunshine law – Las Cruces Sun-News (6.13.2015)

Disbarred Florida Foreclosure Lawyer Sells Land for $10 Million
The former “foreclosure king” of Florida, disbarred lawyer David J. Stern, has sold oceanfront land he owned for $10 million, the South Florida Business Journal reports. Stern was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court after the court found he ran a law firm that robo-signed court documents as it filed thousands for foreclosures across the state, allegedly taking away the due process rights of many homeowners.
Disbarred ‘foreclosure king’ Stern sells oceanfront land for $10M – South Florida Business Journal (7.7.2015)
Stern trust sells Hillsboro Mile lot for $10 million – SunSentinel (7.7.2015)
Broward foreclosure lawyer David Stern disbarred – South Florida Business Journal (1.10.2014)

San Diego Daily Transcript Receives Reprieve, Acquired by L.A. Paper
Several weeks after the San Diego Daily Transcript announced its closure, it was granted a reprieve through the purchase of its name and masthead by the Los Angeles-based Daily Journal Corp, the company has announced. The Transcript has been published 130 years as the city’s newspaper for industry news and public notices. The newspaper, which is the city’s official newspaper of record, announced its closure in July and was scheduled to print its last edition on September 1, and to cease operations on September 21.

According to a statement by publisher Robert L. Loomis, overhead costs, health care costs and an uncertain future of the news industry contributed to the paper’s closing. “The changing publishing paradigm has made the maintenance of a news organization of the size and scope represented by the Daily Transcript/San Diego Source in a market of San Diego’s size problematic,” he wrote in July.

The Daily Journal Corp., which operates small business and legal newspapers in California and Arizona, has hired four Transcript reporters and is expected to publish its first version of the new Transcript on Wednesday, Loomis told the San Diego Union-Tribune in late August. Meanwhile, the Transcript’s website, sddt.com, will continue indefinitely as the company searches for someone to buy the domain name and continue to operate the online site.
Daily Transcript gets new life – San Diego Union-Tribune (8.27.2015)
Daily Transcript to close after 130 years – San Diego Union-Tribune (7.22.2015)

Marin County Officials Reject Grand Jury Decision
Marin County, California, officials have rejected a grand jury report which concluded that county officials repeatedly broke the law by approving pension benefits without providing public notice. In late June, county officials said the pension benefits cannot be withdrawn because the county was in “substantial compliance” with the law, but that the county would follow the law in the future. “We definitely will do it going forward,” County Administrator Matthew Hymel told the Marin Independent Journal. “We will follow every statutory required procedure.”

County officials relied on a report by the Meyers Nave law firm which largely dismissed the grand jury’s disclosure of wrong doing.

Members of the public, including several outspoken critics of the increased benefits, criticized the county’s response at a Board of Supervisors meeting. “The public was denied the right to analyze and oppose … pension increases,” despite government code requiring it, the newspaper reported one man as saying. Another observed that county officials seem to follow a double standard by requiring that others follow the law, while giving themselves leeway to be in “substantial compliance” with it. “You need to follow the letter of the law, whatever that is,” he said.
Marin OKs report dismissing grand jury pension criticism – Marin Independent Journal (6.30.2015)

 

June/July 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Former Sen. Thompson: Internet Vulnerabilities Remain
Government officials have known about the vulnerabilities the internet faces since at least 1998, when seven young hackers – bearing names like Space Rogue, Weld Pond and Brian Oblivion – testified before the United States Senate that “any of the seven individuals seated before you” could take the internet down with 30 minutes of well-choreographed keystrokes. Fred Thompson, the Tennessee Republican who chaired the Senate panel in 1998 and left Congress in 2003, said in a recent interview that internet security is the kind of problem the government has trouble fixing. “Number one, it’s very difficult, and number two, there’s no immediate political payoff for anyone,” he said.

The vulnerability of technology users at the highest levels of government is a stark reminder of the value of publishing printed versions of public notices in newspapers. The newspaper and press association websites which host public notices may also be vulnerable to being taken offline, so the online postings are best used as an adjunct to the printed notice, because printed notices remain independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable.
A Disaster Foretold – And Ignored – The Washington Post (6.22.2015, with links to previous stories in this series)

‘The Internet is not a Public Square’
Politwoops – an archive of statements tweeted, and later deleted, by U.S. politicians – has been shut down after Twitter pulled permission for the Sunlight Foundation to curate the deleted tweets.

Shortly after Politwoops launched in 2012, Twitter told the Sunlight Foundation that Politwoops “violates our API Terms of Service on a fundamental level.” After securing an agreement from Sunlight that the organization would screen out low-value tweets such as typos, Twitter allowed the site to continue.

Until June 3, when Twitter withdrew, without explanation, permission for Sunlight to continue its use of deleted tweets.

“What our elected officials say is a matter of public record, and Twitter is an increasingly important part of how our elected officials communicate with the public,” Sunlight Foundation president Christopher Gates wrote on the foundation’s blog. “Unfortunately, Twitter’s decision to pull the plug on Politwoops is a reminder of how the Internet isn’t truly a public square. Our shared conversations are increasingly taking place in privately owned and managed walled gardens, which means that the politics that occur in such conversations are subject to private rules. (In this case, Twitter’s terms of service for usage of its API.)”
Eulogy for Politwoops – The Sunlight Foundation blog (6.4.2015)
Announcing Politwoops: Deleted Tweets from U.S. Politicians – The Sunlight Foundation Blog (5.30.2102)

Federal Bill Calls for Public Notice in Newspapers, Non-government Website
A redistricting bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives will, if passed, require public notice in both newspapers and on a non-government website.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), would require Congressional redistricting to be conducted by independent state commissioners, faces long odds in the Republican-controlled House. However, if passed in its present form, the bill would require announcement of public hearings and redistrcting plans to appear “in newspapers of general circulation throughout the State” and on a website “not affiliated with or maintained by the office of any elected official.”

While a long shot, the bill demonstrates that while state and local governments continue to chip away at newspaper-based public notice, newspapers are still seen as an “open and transparent manner which provides for the widest public dissemination reasonably possible of its proposed and final redistricting plans.”
H.R. 2173, the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015

Reader Puts Forth Arguments for Public Notice in Newspapers
The Dispatch-Argus of Moline, Illinois, has published a letter from a reader thanking the newspaper for its editorial on why public notices should remain in newspapers.

“Those who support [a bill in the Illinois legislature which would move notices to government websites] also argue that only a handful of people actually read public notices and that it is extravagant to spend so much publishing information read by so few,” wrote reader Mark Lioen of Rock Island, Illinois. “But, I would argue that it is essential to have the widest possible dispersal of information regarding what the government is doing if you hope to serve the public interest and maintain a democratic republic.”

The editorial drew attention to the Illinois Press Association’s public notice websites – PublicNoticeIllinois.com – and noted that Illinois House Bill 261 would have allowed local governments to post public notices on their own websites and not require newspaper publication. The bill failed to make it out of committee in February, but the newspaper says that there are renewed efforts to make the bill into law.

The newspaper also noted that many localities have poorly-maintained websites – or no website at all. “[The town of] Atkinson’s website is reporting that the clerk’s office will be closed Sept. 19 and 22 and minutes haven’t been posted since January 2012,” and “South Moline Township has not posted an agenda since April 2015 and no minutes since May 2014,” the newspaper reported.

Newspapers and state press associations can aid in the annual battle to protect the public’s right to know by raising the profile of their public notice websites. This effort reminds the public that the local newspaper is best-suited to serve as the government watchdog. Public notices published in newspapers are independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable.
Letter: Government notices require widest dispersion possible – Dispatch-Argus (Moline, Ill.) (5.23.2015)
Editorial: Why proposed public notice changes are bad for taxpayers – Dispatch-Argus (Moline, Ill.) (5.16.2015)
Illinois public notice bill terrible for state’s taxpayers – Dispatch-Argus (Moline, Ill.) (2.22.2015)

Lack of Notice Figures Prominently in California Pension Shortfall
A grand jury report from Marin County, California, which says that county officials repeatedly broke the law by approving pension benefits without public notice, has received extensive media coverage around the state.

“The grand jury found that the public employers appear to have violated these requirements in a variety of ways — providing little, if any, notice to the citizens of Marin County that they would be responsible in the future for hundreds of millions of dollars in pension costs,” the report says.

The lack of notice reaches further than just Marin County. David Crane, writing in the Capitol Weekly of Sacramento, says that one of the most expensive examples of that behavior took place in 1999 when California’s leaders gave a massive pension boost to government employees. “To add insult to injury, citizens weren’t even given the choice of approving the pension boost,” Crane writes. “That’s because, unlike general obligation bonds that require voter approval, under current law politicians can make retirement promises without voter consent. Obscured by shady accounting, protected from voter review, and fueled by political contributions from interested parties, that’s how hundreds of billions of dollars of pension costs get loaded on to innocent citizens without their knowledge or consent.”

Steven Greenhut, California columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, reports that activists from other parts of the state tell the same story of a coordinated campaign to boost pensions, with as little public debate as possible. “Whether other cities and counties did what the Marin County grand jury alleges is unclear,” he says. “But there’s no question today’s legislators have little incentive to properly account for – or even admit to themselves – a problem that will only make their lives more difficult.”
Stock market soars – and so do public pension costs – Capitol Weekly (Sacramento, Calif.) (5.26.2015)
Report: Officials masked big pension hike – San Diego Union-Tribune (5.27.2015)
Marin grand jury flays pension benefit secrecy – Marin Independent Journal (San Rafael, Calif.) (4.17.2015)
Pension Enhancements: A Case of Government Code Violations and A Lack of Transparency – Marin County, Calif., Civil Grand Jury report (4.9.2015)

State Legislation

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

General
Michigan: HB 4183 – temporarily postponed – Language removed to move all notices to the Web by 2025. Substitute bill introduced.
Pennsylvania: HB 1119 – referred to Committee – Permit move public school notices to the Web and allow a screen shot of the notice on the Website to serve as authentication.
Rhode Island: H 5900 – LANGUAGE REMOVED – Move notices to a government website.
Texas: HCR 96 – e-Filed with Secretary of State – Create joint interim Committee to study public notices.

Government Notices
North Carolina: H 156 – referred to Committee (previously passed House) – Require notices to be published on newspaper website at no additional charge.
Pennsylvania: HB 1268 – referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.

Publish & Post
Louisiana: SB 179 – Sent to Governor

UELMA
Texas: HB 1799 – referred to Committee (previously passed House)

Articles & Editorials

Column Highlights the Problem of Poorly-defined Notice Terms
A column in an online-only Minnesota news source – MinnPost.com – highlights the problems that can arise when state legislatures don’t adequately define what sort of publication qualifies as an official publication of record.

The column is largely skeptical about the efficacy of public notices printed in newspapers, which is no surprise given its online-only presence. But it also provides some important commentary on why state legislatures should ensure that they define what sort of publication should carry public notices. “A few years ago [a man named John Kysylyczyn] sued Anoka County [Minnesota] after he was not awarded the county’s legal notice business,” writes MinnPost’s Brian Lambert. “But then, late last year, he was awarded the county’s legal notice business – on the ground that his upstart free publication, the Anoka County Record (which is barely more than a newsletter, and a rabble-rousing one at that), both meets the current legal definition of a local publication – and is a whole lot cheaper than the Anoka County Union Herald.”

Despite the fact that the Record is free, Lambert writes, it circulates a little more than 400 copies of his paper to Anoka County’s roughly 340,000 citizens.

Kysylyczyn’s publication is essentially a staff of one, and what editorial content there is, Lambert writes, comes with a pronounced political bias.

“For a government unit as big as Anoka County, it’s mind­ boggling that they would designate a publication like that, that makes no real attempt at covering the community, the paper of record,” Tom Murray, general manager of the ABC papers group which owns the Union Herald, told Lambert.
The great Anoka County newspaper war of 2015 – MinnPost.com (5.21.2015)

North Dakota A.G. Rules University Department Met Illegally
The Forum newspaper of Fargo, North Dakota, has received a ruling from the state’s attorney general that the North Dakota State University Development Association broke the open meetings law when it went into executive session during two December meetings to discuss the firing of the fundraising group’s CEO.

The newspaper reports: “During one of those closed-door sessions, the executive committees appointed a subcommittee to meet with former CEO Doug Mayo and discuss separation terms, which should have occurred in the public eye, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote in the opinion. At that Dec. 4 session, which lasted about two hours, committee members were reminded that a subcommittee would be subject to open meetings law, he wrote. But ‘the existence of the subcommittee was unknown to the public’ and ‘remained unknown to the public’ when the foundation failed to announce those meetings, Stenehjem wrote.”

The attorney general’s opinion was requested by the newspaper following the meetings.
AG says NDSU foundation violated open meetings laws – The Forum (Fargo, N.D.) (6.2.2015)

Kansas Reporter Cites Public Notice in Story About Bank Closing
The Osage County Herald-Chronicle of Osage City, Kansas, has reported that the county’s smallest bank – which is called, no kidding, Tightwad Bank – will close at the end June. As part of his reporting, Jeremy Gaston notes that a public notice about the closing “appears on Page 8” of the newspaper.

From the Herald-Chronicle: “If you do not close your deposit account by June 22, the bank will close your deposit account and mail you a check for the full balance in your deposit account(s) from an escrow account at another bank,” the notice states. “Your check will be promptly mailed after the June 29 closing date.”

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring, in partnership with American Court and Commercial Newspapers and state newspaper associations, the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest. The 2014 contest was won by Jim Lockwood, staff writer for The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, who won for his coverage of a proposed new commuter tax. Lockwood’s story referred readers to the dates of the notices so they could read the notices themselves.
County’s smallest bank to close June 29 – The Osage County Herald-Chronicle (Osage City, Kan.) (6.5.2015)

 


May 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Hackers are Gaining Ground
It’s becoming more and more likely that internet users – including government websites – will be subject to a cyber attack, says a new report by technology company Symantec. More concerning, though, writes Meritalk’s Drew Doggett, is that vendor response times are falling behind.

“On average, vendors took 204, 22 and 53 days respectively to release a patch in the three most-exploited zero-day vulnerabilities. That’s compared to a four-day average in 2014,” he writes. “And malware is proliferating. More than 317 million malware programs were created last year – nearly 1 million a day.”

The vulnerability of technology users at the highest levels of government is a stark reminder of the value of publishing printed versions of public notices in newspapers. The newspaper and press association websites which host public notices may also be vulnerable to being taken offline, so the online postings are best used as an adjunct to the printed notice, because printed notices remain independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable.
In Cyber Wars, Hackers are Gaining Ground – MeriTalk (4.20.2015)
2015 Internet Security Threat Report – Symantec (4.2015)

Mississippi Governor Vetoes Bill Because of “Poor Transparency”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant struck down a bill over concerns it decreased transparency in government.

Bryant issued the veto – one of only four handed down this session – after a request was made by the Mississippi Press Association. The bill would have given local government more control over the Gulf Coast Coliseum Commission. But a late revision in conference committee deleted a requirement the commission publish notices of changes in a local newspaper in favor of government-controlled websites.

“We objected because we felt it was improper to make fundamental change like this without input from interested parties. It really is an issue of transparency in the process,” said MPA executive director Layne Bruce.

In his veto order, Bryant said he had no objections to the basic intent of the bill to place more responsibility for the coliseum oversight with local authorities. “The troubling part of the bill pertains to changes in public notice requirements,” the vote order reads.

“I would support additional publication electronically, but eliminating the provision in current law that requires the commission to publish a notice in the newspaper raises transparency concerns and could possibly hinder participation in the process,” the governor wrote.

Proponents of the bill said they would restore the newspaper notice provision in a future version of the bill that could be considered during an expected special session later this spring.

Bryant also supported public transparency in April when he signed a bill to require boards of publicly-run hospitals to keep most of their meetings open to the public. Boards will be able to close meetings to discuss employment contracts for physicians or other hospital workers or to discuss competitive business matters and patient information.

The Mississippi Business Journal reported in March that the hospital transparency bill was filed in response to pension losses at Singing River Hospital in Jackson County. Financial problems existed for months before coming to light, largely because the board of the county-owned hospital routinely met in private.
Bryant vetoes Common Core bill – The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.) (4.23.2015)
Bill 2269
Bryant says he will sign public hospital transparency bill – Mississippi Business Journal (3.31.2015)

Michigan Honors Lawmakers for Support of Public Notice
The Michigan Press Association honored State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) and State Representative Peter Pettalia (R-Presque Isle) for their support of sunshine and transparency in government.

MPA announced these awards during the national celebration of Sunshine Week in March and presented the awards in May.

MPA says that Schuitmaker and Pettalia have been stalwart supporters of the public’s right to know during their legislative careers. “They received the award based on their support of last year’s Freedom of Information Act expansion and their leadership in promoting the importance newspaper public notices in keeping Michigan’s citizens informed about government activity,” a spokesperson said. “These actions directly support MPA’s mission of defending free speech, promoting an open and responsive government and fostering an informed citizenry.”
The Bulletin – Michigan Press Association (5.07.2015)

Illinois Press Handout Says Government Websites Keep Public ‘In the Dark’
The Illinois Press Association has put together a handout which Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the IPA, says was key in testimony against bad public notice bills in the 2015 legislative session.

“There are over 7,000 government entities in Illinois,” he told of Record. “Only half or so may have a website, that’s one issue. The other issue is, who is going to search those other 3,500 government websites for a notice?”

Using the headline “Digital Blackout: Local government websites keep public in the dark,” the IPA’s handout includes statistics gathered by the association including that only 65% of municipalities are complying with a provision in state law which requires local governments to post data to their own websites.

DeRossett says: “If local governments say putting notices on their websites will save taxpayers’ dollars, what type of accounting will there be to substantiate or refute this? If their staffs are already overburdened with fulfilling FOIA requests, how can they take on uploading notices to their own websites without adding to payroll?”

The Illinois Press Association’s handout is on the PNRC website.  

S.D. Legislature Rewrites Notice Law to Better-reflect its Intent
A South Dakota state law that takes effect July 1 might clean up the practices by some public boards and commissions for displaying meeting notices, requiring that the notice be displayed continuously for one full day, reports the Daily Republic of Mitchell, South Dakota.

The newspaper reports that the state legislature tried to address the problem in 2012 when lawmakers said a public meeting notice with a proposed agenda needed to be “visible, readable, and accessible for at least an entire twenty-four hours” at the office of the agency holding the meeting.

Government offices interpreted the law in a variety of ways, and posted the notices in a variety of manners. In November, the state Open Meeting Commission ruled 3-2 that the Freeman school board met the 24-hour requirement by putting a meeting notice on a window inside the building for three days.

That led to the Legislature amending the law this year by adding the word “continuous” to the 24-hour requirement, the Daily Republic reports.

The South Dakota Newspaper Association supported the legislation and testified at the public hearings last winter. At Freeman, SDNA executive director David Bordewyk told the newspaper, the agenda was visible in the window of the superintendent’s office inside the building from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for three days in a row to meet the 24-hour requirement, which wasn’t the intent of the 2012 law.
With new law, meeting-notice requirement is ‘crystal clear’ – The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.) (5.1.2015)

League of Minnesota Cities Poll: People Turn to Newspapers for Notices
The Public Notice Resource Center and state press associations across the country have long argued that citizens turn to their local newspaper first and foremost for news and information, not a government website.

A May poll conducted by the League of Minnesota Cities supports this argument. A poll posted on the League’s website asked “from what source do residents of your community get most of their news about city government?” A hefty 79% said the local newspaper, while just 6% said the city website. This news was reported by both the Minnesota Newspaper Association and the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

While the League has removed the poll from its website, you can view a screenshot of it here.

Foreclosure Firm Butler & Hosch Closes Doors
Butler & Hosch, one of the largest foreclosure law firms in the country with 11 offices and about 700 attorneys and staff nationally, has abruptly closed its doors and filed an assignment for the benefit of creditors in Florida state court.

The firm had about 60,000 foreclosure files and picked up many files from the defunct Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation, which collapsed during the robo-signing scandal.

A drop in foreclosure filings contributed to the firm’s demise, law firm CEO Bob Hosch said in a letter to employees and vendors obtained by the Daily Business Review.
Foreclosure Firm Butler & Hosch Shuts Down – Daily Business Review (5.18.2015)


State Legislation

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Definition of Newspaper
Indiana: SB 530 – signed by Governor – Newspapers required to maintain a certain average circulation to publish notices.

General
Alaska: HB 68 – referred to Committee (previously passed House) – Bill to create a statewide “Online Public Notice System.”
Arkansas: HJR 1008 – killed in Committee – Eliminate newspaper notice of proposed Constitutional amendments.
Texas: HCR 96 – placed on Resolutions calendar – Create joint interim Committee to study public notices.
Texas: SB 392 – left pending in Committee – Permit move notices of government meetings to the Web.

Government Notices
(language removed) Connecticut: SB 188 – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Texas: HB 139 – passed Committee – Move notices to the Web and make newspaper publication optional.

Publish & Post
Louisiana: SB 179 – referred to Committee (previously passed Senate).

UELMA
Texas: HB 1799 – passed House


Articles & Editorials

2.1 Million Americans Still Use Dialup AOL
While broadband internet access penetration is increasing – particularly through the use of mobile devices – some 2.1 million Americans still pay for dialup internet access from America Online. The statistic was reported in the company’s quarterly earnings report and was quickly picked up by online news services including CNET.

“Dial-up is infernally slow. It’s about as narrowband as a contemporary connected mortal could imagine and far beyond anything they could tolerate,” writes CNET contributor Chris Matyszczuk. “Just to compare, in January the FCC redefined broadband as 25 megabits per second, though the average speed in the US is 10 Mbps. Dial-up is 56 kilobits per second.”

CNN Money puts the average U.S. broadband speed at 11.4 Mbps, which it notes “is 200 times faster than dial-up.”
More than 2 million people still pay for AOL dial-up – CNET (5.8.2015)
OMG: 2.1 million people still use AOL dial-up – CNN Money (5.8.2015)
AOL Trending Schedules, with pertinent portion highlighted (May 2015) | Other reports are available here

California Reporter Cites Public Notice in Cell Tower Story
A California reporter has referencd a public notice carried in the newspaper in its reporting of controversy  surrounding a proposed cell phone tower which could be constructed in the San Bernadino National Forest.

Some residents who live near the site have complained that the notice was vague.

“According ot a legal notice the Forest Service published in the March 12, 2015, issue of the Mountain News, [the Forest Service] was seeking comments on a proposal to authorize construction and operation of a multi-carrier cellular communication site on the north side of the lake,” reporter Glenn Barr wrote in the Mountain News of Lake Arrowhead, California. “Neither the legal notice [or a letter sent by a park ranger to nearby residents] mentions the tower’s 74-foot-height, but both say the .06-acre site would include the tower, two small equipment shelters, a propane generator and a propane tank.”

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring, in partnership with American Court and Commercial Newspapers and state newspaper associations, the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest. The 2014 contest was won by Jim Lockwood, staff writer for The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, who won for his coverage of a proposed new commuter tax. Lockwood’s story referred readers to the dates of the notices so they could read the notices themselves.
Proposed Cell Tower Stirs Protests – The Mountain News (Lake Arrowhead, Calif.) (4.30.2015)


April 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC Lends Talking Points to Effort Against Nevada Bill
Questions about how public notices posted only online could be used in court if needed arise often in legislatures. The Public Notice Resource Center provided talking points to the Nevada Press Association for use in its testimony against a bill which would have, among other things, authorized the publication of a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website maintained by a newspaper, or by a broadcast radio or television station, in lieu of publishing the legal notice or legal advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation.

The Nevada Press Association testified against the bill in committee in early April, and the talking points were entered into the legislative record. The talking points include specific reference to Nevada’s rules of evidence and should not be used elsewhere, but most states follow the federal rules just like Nevada. PNRC will look into your state’s rules if needed or you can consult your own attorneys.

Arkansas Bill to Move Notices Online Goes Down to Defeat
Arkansas House Bill 1681, which would have removed public notices from newspapers in the state, has gone down to defeat in an Arkansas House committee.

The bill would have given those governing bodies presently required to publish public notices in newspapers the option of publishing them rather on a website, writes Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. The bill’s sponsor called it a bill “to reduce public spending.”

“We were fairly confident that there weren’t enough votes in the committee to send this bill on to the Senate, but one never takes these things for granted,” Larimer says. “When it comes to the legislature, anything can happen.”

Bill Rector, an Arkansas publisher who testified against the bill explained his opposition: “The web is a great place to research things you know you don’t know enough about, but it is lousy at informing you about things you don’t know you don’t know about.”

Cybersecurity Fails to Figure Prominently in State IT Plans
In the face of increasing numbers of cyberattacks on both private and public data, Kevin Desouza, a non-resident senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, has examined how federal agencies plan to deal with attacks on their information technology infrastructure. Perhaps most importantly, Desouza says that “the reactive nature of most plans when it comes to cybersecurity” is “striking.”

Desouza followed up his study of federal agencies with a study of state government IT plans. All states, with the exception of Alaska, publish an IT strategic plan, though the Vermont and Utah were both virtually silent on cybersecurity. “We saw little evidence of awareness of cybersecurity as an issue and no evidence of any robust plans for addressing it,” Desouza and co-author Gregory Dawson write.

Most state IT strategic plans, Desouza and Dawson found, mention the need for cybersecurity, but security does not figure prominently in the plans.

For example, they write, “Maryland reports, ‘[anticipating] a significant surge in cyber security activities, especially in the areas of planning, infrastructure hardening, and platform/network/application assessment and testing.’ However, we scoured the plan but, outside of this single reference to cyber security, we found no plans, strategies, or actionable steps to implementing cyber security policies.”

The lack of cybersecurity plans at the highest levels of government are a stark reminder of the value of publishing printed versions of public notices in newspapers. The newspaper and press association websites which also host public notices may also be vulnerable to being taken offline. The online postings are best used as an adjunct to the printed notice, because those notices remain independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable. Hackers beware!
How state governments are addressing cybersecurity – TechTank blog, The Brookings Institute (3.5.2015)
The vast majority of the government lacks clear cybersecurity plans – TechTank blog, The Brookings Institute (2.3.2015)

N.C. Editorial Fights Legislature’s Move to Put Notices Online
The Herald Sun of Durham, North Carolina, has reminded its readers of the value that newspapers provide to public notices:

“On a recent Friday morning, readers of this newspaper – whether they subscribed, bought a copy at a convenience store, dropped by the library or picked up a copy left on a park bench – could have learned, among other things, that a property owner on East Seeman Street seeks a variance from the Durham Board of Adjustment to build a fence higher than zoning rules normally would allow; [that] in Carrboro, aldermen will hold a public hearing on whether to ‘allow Temporary Family Health Care Structures as an Accessory Use…’ [and that] county commissioners will hear from the public on a zoning change to allow a new development under a ‘residential rural’ classification.”

The editorial continues: “Our local governments are eager for public input – but even if they weren’t, any interested citizen could see those legal advertisements because state law requires it. And for generations, citizens have been able to find such announcements, and other vital information about local government action, in those widely available legal notice sections of newspapers.”

The editorial is in response to North Carolina House Bill 156, which would require Internet publication of  public notices. The bill passed the House on March 30; the Senate referred it to the Committee on State and Local Government the following day, where it has remained.
Keep public notices public – The Herald Sun, Durham, N.C. (3.21.2015)
North Carolina House Bill 156

State Legislation

With only eleven states adjourned, 2015 continues to be a very busy year for legislation. However, many bills that previously contained language removing notices from newspapers have been amended and maintain newspaper notice.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Corporations
Arizona: HB 2016 – FAILED Committee – Move corporate notices to the Web.

Definition of Newspaper
Indiana: SB 530 – PASS House (previously passed Senate) – Newspapers required to maintain a certain average circulation to publish notices.

General
Alaska: HB 68 – third reading – Bill to create a statewide “Online Public Notice System.”
Michigan: HB 4183 – Language removed to move all notices to the Web by 2025. Substitute bill introduced.
New York: AB 2005/AB 3005 – Language removed to eliminate newspaper notice of Constitutional Amendments.
Texas: HCR 96 – filed – Create joint interim Committee to study public notices.

Government Notices
Connecticut: SB 188 – referred to Office of Legislative Research – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Illinois: HB 261 – re-referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
Illinois: HB 2746 – re-referred to Committee – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Kansas: HB 2237 – hearing scheduled – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Kansas: HB 2412 – referred to Committee – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.

Notices to Alternative Means
Nevada: AB 479 – No further action allowed – Permit publication of notices on the broadcaster’s website.

Publish & Post
Louisiana: SB 179 – referred to Committee .

Self-Storage
Maryland: SB 613/HB 786 – PASSED House & Senate – Language removed: “reasonable manner test” Require notice in newspaper, email or on Website.

UELMA
New York: SB 4606 – referred to Committee
Texas: HB 1799 – hearing scheduled

Articles & Editorials

Nevada Reporter Cites Public Notice in Federal Litigation Report
A “notice by publication in lieu of summons” legal advertisement regarding federal litigation on the Walker River in Nevada was cited heavily in a story by Keith Trout in the Reno Gazette-Journal. The story notes that the public notice “was printed for the first two of four times in the past two weeks of the Mason Valley News legal advertising section.” The Mason Valley News is a sister publication of the Reno newspaper.

The plaintiffs in the case, which involves domestic well water rights, have been working to provide service against any water rights holders in the Walker River system since 1992, the story says. “However, in response to a motion, last month [the court] issues an ‘order to allow service by publication,’ prompting the current legal advertisement.”

Trout cites the notice numerous times in his story, including an explanation of various points in the notice by a local water rights attorney.

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring, in partnership with American Court and Commercial Newspapers and state newspaper associations, the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest. The 2014 contest was won by Jim Lockwood, staff writer for The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, who won for his coverage of a proposed new commuter tax. Lockwood’s story referred readers to the dates of the notices so they could read the notices themselves.
Notice by publication approved in Walker River case – Reno Gazette-Journal (3.28.2015)

California, Illinois Reporters Use Public Notice in Stories
At least two other reporters have referred to public notices carried in their publications in recent weeks. Jamie Munks, a staff writer at The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Illinois, has mentioned a public notice carried in her newspaper in her reporting on a rezoning effort by the Springfield city council. “A legal notice published in the Jan. 30 edition of The State Journal-Register advertised the February Springfield Planning & Zoning Commission meeting where the issue was discussed,” she wrote. “The commission recommended that the city council approve the rezoning.”

Munks continued: “The change would allow the property to be marketed ‘for various possible uses included multiple-family residences,’ according to the notice.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Olson, a reporter at the Chico (Calif.) Enterprise-Record, used a public notice carried in his newspaper as the basis for a story on an effort by county officials to purchase a parcel of land. “The negotiations were announced in a public notice published three times in this publication,” Olson wrote.
West side homeowner group continues to fight against apartments – The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill. (3.15.2015)
Butte County interested in property next to landfill for secondary services – Chico Enterprise-Record (3.14.2015)


March 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Pennsylvania Reporter Named Public Notice Journalism Award Winner
Jim Lockwood, staff writer for The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, is the winner of the 2015 Public Notice Journalism award. Lockwood is recognized for his deft incorporation of public notice information into his coverage of local government.

A second-place award for 2015 will go to the Monroe County Reporter, Forsyth, Georgia, for team reporting on a school district’s attempts to acquire property by condemnation, over the landowner’s opposition. The district wanted to build a Fine Arts Center on the site, a project it eventually abandoned in the face of public opposition. The public notice figured into the story when the school board advertised its condemnation plans. 

PNRC President Bradley L. Thompson II, chairman and CEO of the Detroit Legal News, said Lockwood was chosen because his work was a pacesetter for journalists committed to informing their readers about the workings of local government.

“His coverage of a proposed new commuter tax was a terrific example. The city ran the notices, but citizens sued because they believed the action was taken too quickly and without sufficient information to the taxpayers. Lockwood’s story referred readers to the dates of the notices so they could check for themselves.

The award will be presented March 19 at the National Press Club.
PNRC Names Pennsylvania Reporter National Public Notice Journalism Award Winner – PNRC (3.2.2015)

State Senator: Right to Know is Worth 9 Cents Per Hoosier
An Indiana state senator has written a bill in the state’s legislature which would require local government budgets to be published in newspapers by public notice through at least 2020. The practice of publishing budgets is scheduled to end in 2016; a 2014 law allows local governments and school districts to post their budgets on the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance website – and nothing else.

“There are a lot of people who are just not able to use a computer to the extent that they can find the information on the Department of Local Government Finance website,” Glick said to reporters.

Glick’s bill originally would have required local governments and school districts to publish their budgets in newspapers. As approved by committee, the bill merely says they have the option to do so. Glick hopes to restore the original language when the bill is heard before the full Senate and House of Representatives.

The Indiana Legislative Services Agency estimates the cost of publishing the budgets to be $427,000 spread across 2,600 units of government.

“That figures out to less than 9 cents per adult Hoosier, statewide,” Glick said. “I just think that’s the cost of democracy. If we err, let’s err on the side of giving too much information.”
Right to know is worth 9 cents per Hoosier – Vincennes Sun-Commercial (2.27.2015)

South Dakota House Committee Kills Online Notices Bill
The South Dakota Newspaper Association reports that a bill which would have allowed cities, school and counties to post all of their public notices online instead of publishing them in their official newspaper is dead. “[The bill] was defeated on a 11-2 vote in the House Local Government Committee in February, despite a blitz of proponent testimony from lobbyists representing local governments.” An identical bill was defeated in the same committee two years ago.

Arkansas Legislators Propose Public Notice Constitutional Amendment
Legislators in Arkansas will consider making the future of public notices in newspapers part of the state’s constitution, according to Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. “House Joint Resolution 1008 (HJR 1008) would put to a vote of the people the future of public notices in newspapers. Proposed by Rep. Mickey Gates of Hot Springs, the measure is one of about three dozen seeking one of the three spots on the ballot,” Larimer wrote in his Arkansas Publisher Weekly column.

Larimer says that the legislature at each general session can refer three constitutional amendments to a vote of the people. HJR 1008 would give the General Assembly the flexibility in how to give public notice. Legislators could still opt to place them in newspapers but, if approved, the measure would give flexibility regarding placing the public notices on some government website.

“There are some who think doing this is free and will save the taxpayers a lot of money,” Larimer says. “Unfortunately, authorizing the placement of public notices online doesn’t address a lot of the problems with doing so. It’s hardly free. A whole lot of people in Arkansas don’t have Internet access. Also, anything put online can be hacked and altered. Anything. Can you say Sony, Target, Home Depot?”

N.Y. Budget Would Remove Notices from Constitutional Amendments
The New York News Publishers Association is opposing a budget proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would eliminate the requirement that constitutional amendments and ballot questions be published in local newspapers. The budget bill would require that notices be posted on the state Board of Elections website and the state Department of State’s website for a minimum of three days prior to an election.

“At a time when there is general agreement that there is a need to increase transparency and accountability in state government, it is astounding that this provision is included in a budget bill,” the group said in a memo of opposition.
NY newspaper publishers knock Cuomo’s budget bill on public notices – The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y. (2.12.2015)
Cuomo would bury the news – The Villager, New York, N.Y. (3.9.2015)
Editorial: Constitutional changes need clear airing – Poughkeepsie Journal (2.16.2015)
Editorial: Public Notices: Not Antiquated – The Forum, Howard Beach (2.27.2015)
NYNPA Memo

State Legislation
March has certainly come in like a lion with no sign of letting up soon. Only seven states are expected to adjourn this month, so lots of legislative action still to come this year. As always, please let us know at the PNRC how we can assist.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Corporations
Arizona: HB 2016 – COW action – Move corporate notices to the Web.

Foreclosure
Kentucky: HB 470 – (WITHDRAWN) – Eliminate newspaper notice of foreclosures.
Missouri: HB 526 – referred to Committee – Eliminate newspaper notice of foreclosures.

General
Alaska: HB 68 – referred to Committee – Bill to create a statewide “Online Public Notice System.”
Arkansas: HJR 1008 – referred to Committee – Eliminate newspaper notice of proposed Constitutional amendments.
Iowa: SR 13 – filed – Interim study to evaluate the cost of legal notices.
Michigan: HB 4183 – hearing scheduled – Move all notices to the Web by 2025.
North Carolina: H 156/S 129 – referred to Committee – Require notices to be published on newspaper website at no additional charge.
Texas: HB 814/SB 392 – referred to Committee – Permit move notices of government meetings to the Web.

Government Notices
Arkansas: HB 1681 – Permit move government notices to the Web.
Georgia: SB 186 – Pass Committee – Permit counties or municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Illinois: HB 261 – hearing scheduled – Permit move government notices to the Web.
New Jersey: A 4129 – referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
Rhode Island: H 5728 – introduced – Permit move government notices to the Web.
South Dakota: HB 1167 – KILLED in Committee – Permit move municipal, county and school notices to the Web.
Tennessee: HB 1068/SB 1027 – referred to Committee – Move notices to the Web and make newspaper publication optional.
Texas: HB 139 – referred to Committee – Move notices to the Web and make newspaper publication optional.

Municipal Notices
Alaska: SB 36 – hearing scheduled – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Connecticut: SB 188 – hearing scheduled – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Illinois: HB 2746 – hearing scheduled – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Kansas: HB 2237 – referred to Committee – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Tennessee: HB 437/SB 534 – referred to Committee – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.

Self-Storage
Maryland: SB 613 – hearing scheduled – Permit use “reasonable manner test” in lieu of newspaper notice.
Rhode Island: S 63 – referred to Committee (previously PASSED Senate) – Proposal to eliminate newspaper notice.

UELMA
New York: AB 5631 – referred to Committee
Rhode Island: H 5415 – (WITHDRAWN)
Texas: HB 1799 – filed

Articles & Editorials

Story About Missing Notice Leads to Lawsuit
A story about the lack of public notice in an Indiana newspaper will figure prominently in whether a lawsuit will be heard. A suit over a planned $25 million soccer stadium hinges on whether city council members violated the law by holding meetings without public notice. The city says that mayoral candidate Jeff Harpe did not file his open-door legal challenge within 30 days of knowing about the alleged violation, as required by state law.

The suit was filed December 10.

The city says the suit should have been filed by November 27, because the City Council approved a plan to fund the stadium on October 27, but Harpe says he first learned that public notice of those meetings was not given from an article published in the Indianapolis Star on November 10.

The November story said that Westfield city officials acknowledged that three council members — meeting as the council’s finance committee — had been meeting privately to discuss details about the proposal for months.

“The city’s legal counsel insists the committee meetings comply with the state’s open meeting law. But the state’s foremost authority on that law says otherwise,” the story said. “Public Access Counselor Luke Britt told The Indianapolis Star that local governments are required to post notice of council committee meetings 48 hours in advance. And they’re legally required to be open to the public. Westfield, however, does not post public notices of the committee meetings.”
Trial date tentatively set for Westfield open-door case – Indianapolis Star (2.18.2015)
Do Westfield meetings violate open door law? – Indianapolis Star (11.10.2014)

 


 

February 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Self-storage Bill Goes Down in New Mexico
A bill which would have allowed self-storage facility operators in New Mexico to remove public notifications of lien sales from newspapers has gone down to defeat in the Senate’s judiciary committee, reports Philip Lucey, executive director of the New Mexico Press Association.

Under current law, self-storage operators in the state must publish public notices of lien sales in local newspapers; the bill would have allowed placement in “any other commercially reasonable manner” as long as three independent buyers attend the auction.
“The Judiciary Committee’s biggest issue by far was removing the notice in the newspaper and allowing operators to move forward with whatever commercially reasonable manner meant,” Lucey tells of Record. “It was good to hear the feedback, and we picked up some new advocates.”

South Dakota Committee Kills Online Notice Bill
South Dakota’s House Local Government Committee defeated HB1167, which would have allowed governing bodies to post public notices on the Internet rather than have them printed in officially designated newspapers. The vote was 11-2. “This was really a matter of keeping governments and public officials accountable for their actions,” wrote the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan. “By allowing these bodies to post them on their own online, it invites rampant abuse, growing secrecy and a disconnection between public officials and the people they serve.”
Public Notices and Accountability – Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (2.9.2015)
We Say – Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (2.12.2015)

Montana House Votes Down Bill to Stop Public Service Commission Notices
A bipartisan majority of 71 state representatives has voted down a proposal which would have allowed the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve rate increases without public notice or public hearings.

Speaking in opposition to House Bill 42 at the start of debate on January 29, Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, said: “Why does government exist? Does it exist for the convenience of the PSC? Does it exist for the convenience of monopoly utilities?” He continued: “I think this is a terrible bill. We should kill it.”

The bill would have allowed “notice” of proposed increases to be provided directly by the utilities themselves, perhaps by mailing that information along with their customers’ bills. This notice would not provide hearing information, but merely inform customers of their opportunity to request a hearing. Under current requirements, whenever a rate increase is proposed the PSC must schedule a hearing and provide proper public notice.
Gazette opinion: House stands up for open government – Billings Gazette (2.2.2015)
Missoulian editorial: Bill limits right to know, participate in utility rate decisions – Missoulian (1.29.2015)

Texas Municipal League Says Government Internet Notices Are ‘Free’
Newspapers in Texas face yet another battle against legislation which would place public notices on government websites, either on municipal and county websites or on a website maintained by the Texas comptroller.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said the bills would save taxpayers money. “The newspaper is expensive, and the Internet can be inexpensive or free,” he said.

Donnis Baggett, executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, said removing public notices from newspapers would make the government less transparent. “The main thing we want to do is protect the public’s right to know what its government is doing,” Baggett said. “You want more transparency, not less. A person would have to intuitively know to look on the website to know that governmental entity is having a meeting or not.”
David Marne, mayor of Shavano Park, said he prefers House Bill 814, which would allow municipalities to post their own individual websites. Requiring municipalities to post on the comptroller’s website could lead to a fee being required, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Lawmakers hope to cease public notices in print – San Antonio Express-Review (1.25.2015)

Indiana Bill Would Make State’s Smallest Papers Ineligible for Notices
A bill filed in Indiana’s Senate would make the state’s smallest newspapers ineligible to carry public notices, the Hoosier State Press Association (HSPA) reports. Senate Bill 530 would require newspapers to have a circulation of at least 1% of the population of the political subdivision that is required to publish the notice.

The 1% rule would eliminate three of the four newspapers now publishing public notices in Marion County, leaving only the Indianapolis Star able to surpass the 9,000+ circulation required to carry public notices in the state’s largest county.

Stephen Key, executive director and general counsel of the HSPA, tells of Record that the association will work to change the 1% rule to a minimum circulation number of 200 copies.

Daily Business Review Maven Sookie Williams Retires at 97
Sookie Williams, who helped build the Miami Review into a South Florida legals and real estate institution now known at the Daily Business Review, has retired at the age of 97.

Williams served as vice president of legals for Miami-Dade at the paper for 34 years. The DBR is a publication of ALM Media Properties.

“Sookie was not afraid to speak truth – her truth – to power,” said DBR publisher Chris Mobley in a feature recounting Williams’ career. “We didn’t always see eye to eye. But I soon learned to trust her wisdom. Sookie knows how much I appreciate all she has done for the DBR over the last 42 years.”

The feature, which includes news about what’s next for Williams, is well worth a read, and is online for a limited time only.
Legal Legend Sookie Williams is Retiring – Daily Business Review, Miami, Fla. (2.2.2015)

State Legislation
Another busy month of bills, with all 50 states having convened their legislative session or begun the pre-filing process. No states will adjourn the 2015 legislative calendar until late February, at the earliest, so the flurry of bills is not expected to wane anytime soon.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

General
Alaska: HB 68 – hearing scheduled – Bill to create a statewide “Online Public Notice System.”
Maine: LD 258 – referred to Committee – Permits publication in free newspaper.

Government Notices
Illinois: HB 261 – referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
Mississippi: SB 2271 – KILLED in Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
New Jersey: A 4141 – referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
South Dakota: HB 1167 – referred to Committee – Permit move municipal, county and school notices to the Web.
Texas: HB 139 – referred to Committee – Bill to move notices of a political subdivision to a government website and make newspaper publication optional.

Municipal Notices
Alaska: SB 36 – hearing scheduled – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Connecticut: SB 188 – hearing scheduled – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.
Kansas: HB 2237 – referred to Committee – Permit municipalities to move notices to the Web.

Notices to Alternative Means
Virginia: SB 1256 – KILLED in Committee – Permits a locality to publish notices on the locality’s website, radio or television in lieu of newspaper publication.

Self-Storage
Maryland: SB 613 – first reading – Permits use “reasonable manner test” in lieu of newspaper notice.
New Mexico: SB 311 – KILLED in Committee – Permits use “reasonable manner test” in lieu of newspaper notice.
Rhode Island: S 63 – PASSED Committee – Proposal to eliminate newspaper notice.

Articles & Editorials

Notice Leads to Chicken-processing Plant Speculation
Bob Shiles, a reporter for The Robesonian in Lumberton, North Carolina, has reported that public notices carried in his newspaper have led to speculation about an economic development project in Robeson County. Officials “are staying mum about the chicken-processing facility that originally had been targeted for an industrial park in Fayetteville,” he wrote. “But legal notices appearing in the Wednesday and Thursday [February 4 and 5] editions of The Robesonian suggests that [the nearby town of St. Pauls] could be in the running.”

Shiles used the public notices to determine that St. Pauls will hold a February 16 public hearing on “Project Apple,” and that a similar public hearing will be held during a meeting of the county board of supervisors.

“The two newspaper advertisement descriptions of the prospective industry sound a lot like Sanderson Farms,” he wrote. “According to the ad, the company is expected to make a ‘$100 million investment and create 1,000 jobs.’”

A deal between the Mississippi-based poultry producer and nearby Cumberland County fell apart following opposition there.

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters around the country to report on the news contained within the many public notices carried by their newspapers by sponsoring. American Court and Commercial Newspapers, in partnership with state newspaper associations, sponsor the annual Public Notice Journalism Contest; the inaugural contest was won by the Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic for a series of stories initiated by an alert reader who spotted a payment by a local school board in a public notice.
Public notice suggests Sanderson Farms – The Robesonian (2.6.2015)

Meeting Cancelled When Resident Notices Lack of Public Notice
Commissioners in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, canceled their first meeting of 2015 shortly before its scheduled start after a resident, identified by the Tribune-Review as Marybeth Homistek of Fairchance, pointed out that public notices announcing the time, dates and locations for the 2015 meetings had not been placed.

The ads are placed at the start of each year and are required by the state’s Sunshine Act. Melissa Bevan Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, told the Tribune-Review that the commissioners could have been open to liability under the Sunshine Act for failure to provide public notice.

The missed advertisement led to finger-pointing between the commissioner Vincent Zapotosky and chief clerk Amy Revak over who should bear responsibility for the error, which also occurred at the beginning of 2014.
Fayette commissioners cancel 1st meeting because schedule wasn’t advertised – Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh (1.21.2015)

Town Council Meets on Holiday, Without Notice
The Gorham, Maine, town council met on Martin Luther King, Jr., day without providing notice of the meeting, the American Journal of Westbrook, Maine, reports. Prior to a scheduled workshop, six town councilors met with and interviewed representatives of construction firms about selecting a construction manager for the town’s $4.99 million public safety building renovations.

The meetings were held at the municipal center, which was closed for regular public business due to the federal holiday.

The town manager told the newspaper that he viewed the meeting with the construction firms as “a similar process as interviewing a potential employee,” but acknowledged that the town should have provided notice, but that an agenda would have been published with a single item to go into executive session to interview the firms.
Gorham holds holiday meeting with no advance public notice – American Journal, Westbrook, Maine (1.22.2015)


January 2015

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Wisconsin Dodges Public Notice Bullet
Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, reports that public notice has received a reprieve in that state. In late December, Bennett says, she was notified that the Wisconsin budget for 2015-16 would contain language which would dramatically change the method of pubic notice used in Wisconsin. “The new process would not require newspaper publication,” she tells the Public Notice Resource Center. “Much work was done over the holidays to prevent this from happening.”

Two weeks ago, Bennett says, she was notified that language impacting local  government notices would not be included in the budget, but the budget bill would continue to include language which would eliminate all executive state agency notices. After two weeks of effort, Bennett says, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association reached an agreement with Governor Scott Walker’s staff to remove all public notice language from the budget.

Wisconsin’s success is a reminder that change can be effected by newspaper associations and publishers.

Virginia Faces Two New Bills to Move Notices to Government Websites
Early defeats of two bills to kill newspaper public notice set the Virginia legislative session off onto  strong start.  The campaign to shift public notices out of newspapers and onto government websites began with a Roanoke-area assemblyman’s bill to use county websites. The website of Botetourt County, which Del. Christopher T. Head represents, shows no easily-identifiable venue for public notices.

One delegate voted against the bills after witnessing a public outcry in support of one newspaper’s publications.

Del. Rick Morris, R-Carollton, said he changed his opinion on the bill following an incident in Isle of Wight County. The county stopped publishing legal notices in the weekly Smithfield Times and The Tidewater News and instead published them in another newspaper.

“It was a real outcry in the community,” Morris said. “It would lead a person to believe they wanted less people to see the notices. Maybe it’s not; maybe it is, but it makes me skeptical.

It is worth noting that newspapers could improve their presentation of the notices. In the Roanoke Times website, for example, they are found three levels from the home page under Classifieds, where they are mingled with community announcements including  a change in hours for a local restaurant, a “cash for cars” advertisement and a note that the newspaper will not contact advertisers for additional credit card information after an ad has been published.

Newspapers and state press associations can aid in the annual battle to protect the public’s right to know by raising the profile of their public notice websites. This effort reminds the public that the local newspaper, is best-suited to serve as the government watchdog. Public notices published in newspapers are independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable.
Proposal would drop newspaper notice mandate – News Leader, Staunton, Va. (12.31.2014)

Colorado Newspapers Required to Publish Notices on CPA Website
The new year brought about a new procedure for Colorado newspapers, which are now required to upload their published public notices to a Colorado Press Association-owned website, PublicNoticeColorado.com.

The Jan. 1 deadline was set in 2014, says the CPA. “In a victory for the Colorado news industry, [public notices] will still be published in newspapers. However, uploading them to the Public Notice Colorado website will be required by law as a second step in the process.

Colorado Revised Statues 24- 70-103 states that when any legal notice is required by law to be published in any newspaper, the newspaper publishing the notice shall, at no additional cost to the person or entity placing the notice, place the notice on a statewide web site established and maintained by an organization representing a majority of Colorado newspapers as a repository for the notices.

“There’s been a growing tide of government agencies that have made the argument that they should just post legal and public notices online; this was our response to say we understand that there is a digital age and people want to take advantage of that, and that we can take the legal notices that are in the papers and, in addition, put them online,” said CPA CEO Jerry Raehal.
You Need to Notice – Colorado Press Association (10.20.2014)
Legal notices are published on web, in print – Valley Courier, Alamosa, Colo. (1.2.2015)

Online Notices: It’s About the Audience, Not the Technology
A Christmas Day editorial in the Moultrie, Georgia, Observer spurred a comment from a reader which has, in turn, spurred conversation in our office.

The editorial explained to Observer readers why newspapers are essential to informing the public about the actions of their government, not just through reporting and editorials, but through the publication of local, county and state government public notices.

“We routinely see efforts to change laws requiring that government public notices be published in local newspapers so citizens far and wide can scrutinize the nitty-gritty of zoning changes, school redistricting, contracts bid and awarded, home foreclosures, tax liens and the like,” the editorial board wrote. “Advocates of this effort to restrict public access to vital information want the notices posted instead on government websites and thereby save the few bucks that now go to newspapers to process and publish them in print.”

We’re not sure which part of the opinion bugged a commenter named Big Billy, but his argument echoes those we’ve heard elsewhere. “A few more generations, and [the “ancient” printed page] will be history,” he wrote. “Fight it if you wish. Local information and legal actions are to be furnished by the government free of charge.”

Big Billy’s comment is a perfect example of how this discussion so frequently ends up being about technology when it should be about audience. How many people will ever read information on a local, county or state government website (which isn’t really “free of charge,” anyway)? What Big Billy misses is that most newspapers these days have their own websites, and that those websites have far greater readership than do websites of local governments.

All of us in the newspaper industry can do more to shift the message from one of technology (“the government can put notices on their website for free”) to one of audience (“Americans turn to newspaper websites every day for news about their local community”) and accountability (“public notices published by newspapers are independent, archivable, accessible and verifiable”).
Citizens are served by public notices in their newspapers – Moultrie (Ga.) Observer (12.25.2014) | Big Billy’s comment


State Legislation
Welcome to a very busy start to the 2015 legislative season, with 44 states having already convened and another five states commencing the pre-filing process, leaving only Louisiana to convene in late April.

See below for a quick recap of some of the most important bills that have seen legislative action so far this year. For a comprehensive list of public notice legislation, visit the PNRC at:  http://www.pnrc.net/subscribers/state-updates/

Definition of Newspaper
Indiana: SB 530 – referred to Committee – Newspapers required to maintain a certain average circulation to publish notices.

Foreclosure
Missouri: HB 526/SB 183 – Eliminate newspaper notice of foreclosures by changing to a system of judicial foreclosures.

General
Alaska: HB 68 – referred to Committee – Bill to create a statewide “Online Public Notice System.”

Government Notices
Connecticut: HB 5097/HB 5125/HB 5371/SB 188 – referred to Committee – Proposals to allow a municipality to move government notices to the municipality website.
Illinois: HB 261 – referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
Mississippi: SB 2271 – referred to Committee – Permit move government notices to the Web.
New York: AB 2705 – referred to Committee – Permits one county in New York (Westchester) to move their notices to the Web.
Texas: HB 139 – prefiled – Bill to move notices to a government website and make newspaper publication optional.
Texas: HB 814 – filed – Permit move notice of government meetings to the Web.

Notices to Alternative Means
Virginia: HB 1405 – FAIL committee – Bill to shift public notices out of newspapers and onto county websites, television or radio if the population exceeds 50,000.
Virginia: HB 1438 – FAIL committee – Allows localities alternatives to placing notice in a newspaper including: locality’s website, public access channel, automated text or voice alert system or posting at the local library.
Virginia: SB 1256 – referred to Committee – Permits a locality to publish notices on the locality’s website, radio or television in lieu of newspaper publication.

Self-Storage
Rhode Island: S 63 – referred to Committee – Proposal to eliminate newspaper notice.


Articles & Editorials

Public Notice Doesn’t Mean Bad News for Bank Employees
Showing that a newspaper’s public notices section is frequently a good source of news, Tim Mekeel, a business reporter at Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based LNP (formerly the Intelligencer/Journal/Lancaster New Era) has reported on a notice carried in the December 29, 2014, issue of his newspaper. “A legal notice in Monday’s edition of LNP might seem to be bad news for Susquehanna Bank employees. But it’s not, according to a spokesman for BB&T, which is acquiring Susquehanna,” he wrote.

Mekeel reports that the legal notice says Susquehanna’s main office in Lititz, Pennsylvania, will become a branch office of BB&T, which some construed as indicating the office was due for a downsizing after the acquisition. But a BB&T spokesman said that the notice was run as required by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and that it was intended merely to disclose that a Susquehanna location will become a BB&T location.
BB&T: Legal ad not a hint about fate of Susquehanna’s main office – LNP (12.29.2014)

A reporter at the Gainesville (Ga.) Times has also reported on a public notice carried in her newspaper, this one regarding the installation of “positive train control towers” which are being installed in Hall County, Georgia, and around the country. Positive train control is described by the Federal Communications Commission as a “system designed to prevent train-to-train collisions,” among other things.

Reporter Carly Sharec’s Dec. 26 story relied on the public notice to describe the locations of the towers in Hall County. “The exact locations, according to a public notice in the Dec. 11 issue of The Times, are…” she wrote.

The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporters and editors to incorporate public notices into their reporting and writing. PNRC awarded its first Public Notice Journalism award in 2014 to the Mitchell, South Dakota, Daily Republic. The award was established by American Court and Commercial Newspapers in partnership with state newspaper associations. A national winner will be selected in 2015 from winners of 2014 state press association awards.
Train control towers set to go up along rail lines – Gainesville (Ga.) Times (12.26.2014)