Of Record 2016

June 2016

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC Hosts Best Practices Symposium at NNA Convention
The Public Notice Resource Center will identify best practices and share tips on how to improve the industry’s position at its first-ever symposium on Best Practices in Public Notice on Sept. 22, held in conjunction with NNA’s 130th annual convention at the Marriott Cool Springs in Franklin, Tenn. The half-day conference is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. and conclude at 4 p.m., immediately prior to the welcome reception that opens the NNA convention.

The symposium will feature a series of presentations and panel discussions based on the official Best Practices in Public Notices recently adopted by the PNRC Board of Directors. The program will help newspaper publishers understand how to increase readership of public notices and to provide the kind of customer service to their clients that will support industry efforts to keep them in print. The symposium will also focus on ad design, legislative strategies and the role of digital notices in furthering the public interest.

Design guru Ed Henninger will present ideas on how to make public notices visible and readable, and newspaper-industry veteran Teri Saylor will present the results of her research on the state of newspaper archiving, a key element in the preservation of newspaper notice. The early-bird registration fee, which includes lunch, is only $25. The deadline for early registration is Aug. 26.

Pennsylvania House Bill Provides Greater Scrutiny Over Sale of City Water Systems
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill that would provide the public with greater scrutiny of agreements to sell or lease municipal water and sewer systems. The legislation, which has yet to see action in the Senate, appears to be in response to actions by the Scranton Sewer Authority’s $195 million to sell the sewer system that serves that city and nearby Dunmore to Pennsylvania American Water Co.

Scranton Times-Tribune Harrisburg bureau chief Robert Swift reports that the legislation, if enacted, would require that municipalities hold a public meeting and publish a legal notice before entering a sale or lease agreement. The notice would have to be published between seven and 60 days prior to an agreement.

Swift reported that sponsors of the bill say it addresses broader concerns about transparency in the process because a number of private water companies are making offers to buy public water and sewer systems in Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Times-Tribune staff writer Jim Lockwood, who won the 2015 Public Notice Journalism award for his incorporation of public notices into his reporting, continues to tie his reporting to notices carried by his newspaper. On June 9, Lockwood wrote about a scheduled public hearing by an authority serving Scranton and Lackawanna County on the financing involved in the mayor’s plan to lease the city’s parking garages to a nonprofit firm that would operate them. The online version of his story links to the notice.
Bill requires public notice of sewer sales – The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) (5.17.2016)
Scranton parking lease agreement not done yet – The Times-Tribune (6.9.2016)

Regent: Notice Would Have Led to ‘More Hours, Asking Stupid Questions’
The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents recently approved without debate a $6.2 million operating budget that hikes costs for students. The Journal-Times of Racine, Wisconsin, says there remains a “smattering of questions,” thanks to the regents having a series of private briefings rather than a properly-noticed public meeting.

“We’re sitting real quietly now because we’ve had a great chance to have at it in hour-long meetings with staff on the phone,” Regent Margaret Farrow said as regents unanimously adopted the 2016-2017 budget at UW-Milwaukee on June 9. “Without that, we would have had five more hours here, asking what would have been stupid questions.”

The newspaper highlighted the regents’ actions through its main photo cutline: “UW System Regent Margaret Farrow, shown here in February, said Thursday there would have been a lot more public discussion of the 2016-2017 budget if regents hadn’t had private meetings.”

A UW System spokesperson called the budget briefings “one-on-one, or sometimes two-by-two, phone or face-to-face” meetings with regents. Wisconsin open meetings law requires that discussions of policy involving half the members or more of the governing board of a public body – like the Board of Regents – be held in public with prior public notice.
UW regents relied on private conferences for budget briefing – The Journal Times (Racine, Wisconsin) (6.11.2016)

Colorado State Board Shuns Notice in Dinner with Education Commissioner
On the first Wednesday in March, six of the seven members of Colorado’s State Board of Education met for a private dinner with the man they had recently hired to be education commissioner, education news outlet Chalkbeat has reported.

In order to clear up questions posed by the new education commissioner, board chairman Steve Durham suggested dinner at the University Club, where he is a member. Under Colorado open meetings law, meetings of two or more members of state public bodies must be open to the public. But the board issued no public notice and took no minutes, officials said.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, Durham portrayed the meeting as a social gathering and thus not subject to the state’s open meetings law. But records obtained by Chalkbeat show a detailed agenda was planned to discuss key education policy priorities. According to the publication, a Department of Education spokeswoman acknowledged that the meeting violated state law.

“This is a discussion that should have taken place at a public meeting,” said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of journalists, organizations and individuals promoting transparency.

The commissioner resigned less than three months after the board’s secret meeting, and only five months after he had been hired for the job.
Colorado state board and education commissioner held a secret meeting – Chalkbeat (6.13.2016)

State Legislation

The PNRC legislative chart is being updated. Please visit the website for periodic revisions.

Articles & Editorials

Wisconsin: ‘Study Committee’ to Review Statutes on Public Notice
The Star of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, has warned its readers that the state legislature has created a “study committee” to review the state’s statutes on the publication of legal notices in newspapers.

According to the description for the “Study Committee on Publication of Government Documents and Legal Notices,” the committee’s goal is to update state law regarding public notices “to reflect technological advances and remove obsolete provisions,” including a review of “qualifications for official newspapers” and the possibility of allowing “for information to be made available only electronically or through non-traditional media outlets.”

The newspaper noted that despite the benign name of the study committee, such committees often lead to the introduction of new legislation – and the legislature has tried to remove public notices from newspapers in prior legislative sessions.

“Make no mistake; there are some legislators who want to get rid of legal notices as they stand today,” said Wisconsin Newspaper Association lobbyist Mark Graul.

The WNA announced in its June 16 issue of The Bulletin that three professionals with ties to the association would likely be appointed to the study committee: WNA Board past president Tim Lyke, publisher of the Ripon Commonwealth; Heather Rogge, publisher of The Daily News in West Bend and secretary of the WNA Board; and Mark Stodder, president of Xcential Legislative Technologies and a member of the WNA Foundation Board. The WNA confirmed to of Record that each of the three were confirmed by the full Joint Legislative Council.
Our View: Notice this – The Star (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin) (6.1.2016)
The Bulletin – Wisconsin Newspaper Association (6.16.2016)

Newspapers in Canada Fighting the Same Battles
Newspapers in Canada are fighting the same battle as their counterparts in the U.S., against the efforts of municipalities to post public notices on their own websites instead of “using hard copy press,” The Suburban English-language weekly in Ville St. Laurent, Quebec, near Montreal, has written.

“This should be disturbing for a number of reasons,” the newspaper opined.

“The purpose of legal requirements to post public notices of government actions is to inform the public of what is being done. Democracy can’t function without an informed citizenry. Whether it is a change in zoning, public consultations on pending legislation, new parking regulations, deadlines for applications or any of the myriad changes that can compromise citizens if they are not aware, governments must make people knowledgeable,” the editorial said. “Posting only on municipal websites does not meet that duty. People may or may not go to those websites. It’s not the first thing on their mind. To use a modern tech term, it’s not exactly ‘push’ technology.”
Government public notices should be published, not just posted – The Suburban (6.1.2016)

Press Association Exec: Procurement Needs Public Notice
“Nobody likes being left in the dark,” says Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland/Delaware/DC Press Association, writing in the Delaware State News.

But that’s exactly where the city of Wilmington is trying to deposit its citizens, The city is backing House Bill 324, which would raise the contract amounts for competitive bidding and replace the publication of bid notices in local newspapers with notices on its own website. HB 324 has already overwhelmingly passed the House.

“What’s the big deal with posting notices on a city website instead of the local newspaper?” Snyder asks in a recent commentary in the newspaper. “The procurement process must be fair and unbiased, and focus on reaching the broadest cross section of citizens and potential bidders through independent sources. Further, the process must be verified and documented to prove that government is doing what it says it will do,” she says.

If enacted, she says, the bill will reduce competition for government bids and lessen transparency in the procurement process, which translates into higher prices for government, and ultimately taxpayers. “Although this particular bill focuses on the city of Wilmington, it is an opportunity for Delaware senators to stand for transparency and a level playing field for all citizens,” Snyder writes. “Delaware should stay open for business with a transparent and fair procurement process.”
Commentary: Procurement needs transparency, public notice – Delaware State News (Dover, Delaware) (6.11.2016)

May 2016

PUBLIC NOTICE: The Public Notice Best Practices Symposium is now open for registration!  Join us September 22 in Franklin, TN for a half-day symposium on promoting and defending newspaper public notices. Complete details, including group-rate hotel information and an itinerary for the symposium, are available here. Or, you can download and share a printable version here.

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

When is a Veto Not a Veto?
A serious attack on public notices in Kentucky is embroiled in a battle over the limitations in a governor’s veto power.

Tied up in the issues is also a provision that requires compliance with the US Transportation Security Agency’s requirements for states to adopt the Real ID program in order to recognize drivers’ licenses as valid ID for fliers. The requirement was branded by tea party activists as a back-door for creating a national ID program, so some states have refused to comply. Citizens without real ID will have to use passports or other forms of ID to fly when TSA finally ends the grace period for noncompliant states. The legislature also passed a provision for free community college tuition, another controversial topic.

In the final moments of the 2016 session amidst these controversies, a legislator also slipped language into the budget bill, HB 303,  that permitted local governments to avoid newspaper public notice for their financial statements. The late hit for secrecy occurred in a section that had previously given school districts the ability to use their own websites for the financial postings. By substituting “local governments” for “schools,” the secrecy squads would have eliminated virtually all independent notice for local government financials.

But then the budget bill ran into the Republican governor’s veto pen. Using his line-item veto powers, he eliminated the tuition program, $10 million for the Kentucky Pride Fund and the Real ID program. He also drew a line through the public notice provisions, which not only restored the local governments’ transparency requirements, but also reinstated the school financials to newspaper publication. 

The Real ID veto drew immediate public comment. Not much attention was paid to the public notice provisions, nor did any stakeholder come forward to claim credit for the new secrecy.

Then House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, objected to the package of vetoes. He said the vetoes happened while the governor was out of the country. Furthermore, the Kentucky constitution requires the governor to explain each line of his vetoes, he maintained. But the governor’s lining out of the public notice provisions carried no explanation. Now Stumbo has sued Governor Matt Bevin in Franklin Circuit Court, arguing that Bevin exceeded his veto powers.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Press Association has mounted a vigorous fight for transparency. In a letter to Bevin, Executive Director David Thompson pointed out that the earlier allowance for schools to post financials to their websites had not worked so well. He said:

“I challenge you and your staff to find (the financial notice) on any local school district website. If it has been on a school district’s website, it’s not been readily available to access. Many school districts have not published the required notice in the newspaper of where a school district financial statement may be found on the website…The community newspaper members of the Kentucky Press Association do not believe government agencies should be responsible to post information of a public notice nature on their own website. It can be changed easily, it can be taken down from the website in very little time, and it can easily be hidden from public view that makes it difficult for the public to find easily.”

Legislative leaders say they are waiting for the veto dispute to be resolved before they tell Kentuckians, finally, what the new laws say.
Stumbo must end fight over vetoes – Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 5.6.2016
No REAL ID for Kentucky – The Tenther Blog, Tenth Amendment Center, 5.3.2016
Governor Bevin vetoes Kentucky REAL ID bill – WTVQ-TV (Lexington, Kentucky), 4.29.2016
Stumbo questions validity of governor’s vetoes – Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 4.30.2016

Pennsylvania Newspaper Uses Public Notice in City Reporting
Jim Lockwood, staff writer at the Scranton (Pennsylvania) Times-Tribune, who won the 2015 Public Notice Journalism award for his incorporation of public notices into his reporting, continues to tie his reporting to notices carried by his newspaper.

Lockwood reported in April on a Scranton Parking Authority meeting to vote on leasing the city’s five parking garages to a nonprofit organization that would operate them. The meeting was cancelled after publication of a notice to “[work out] some final details.” The authority is closing on a completing an agreement with the National Development Council.

The online version of Lockwood’s story links to the original advertisement, and says that a new notice will be published before the rescheduled meeting.

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. Kenneth Little, staff writer for the Greeneville (Tennessee) Sun, is the winner the 2016 Public Notice Journalism Prize for coverage of a nursing home whose Medicare/Medicaid coverage was revoked by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The story followed publication of an official newspaper notice by HHS in the Sun noting “deficiencies” by the hospital.
Scranton Parking Authority delays meeting on garage leasing – Scranton (Pennsylvania) Times-Tribune (4.19.2016)

Missing Notice Leaves Rare Orchid Unprotected
Environment and energy policy-focused E&E Publishing reports that a rare white flower – the white fringeless orchid – will have to wait a bit longer to be added to the threatened species list after the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed to post a public notice about the flower’s addition to the list last year.

E&E says the orchid has been awaiting federal protection since 1999.

A provision of the Endangered Species Act requires the service to “publish a summary of the proposed regulation in a newspaper of general circulation in each area of the United States in which the species is believed to occur.” A service spokesman confirmed to E&E that it did not meet the listing requirement.

“It should not be that difficult for a federal agency to call up a newspaper and send them a little copy for an ad in the paper,” Dan Rohlf, a scholar at the Center for Progressive Reform and an environmental law expert, told E&E Publishing. “For the agency not to be able to do that for a species that has waited 20 years for a listing just strikes me as absurd.”
FWS flubs legal notice, leaving orchid unprotected – E&E Publishing (4.14.2016)
White fringeless orchid proposed for endangered species list – US Fish & Wildlife Service (9.14.2015)
Federal Register: Proposed Rule (4.14.2016) 

Former Alderman Pushes Connecticut Town to Be More Transparent
A public hearing on a proposed $63.6 million budget in Ansonia, Connecticut, drew no comments on the budget itself – perhaps because no one knew about it.  A former alderman questioned city officials on whether they violated the city charter by failing to keep taxpayers informed with a public notice on the budget consideration, the New Haven Register reports.

David Knapp, a former alderman now serving as chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said the current administration isn’t being transparent enough in letting taxpayers know what’s happening with the budget. He questioned whether the budget was published on the city’s website or in a local newspaper, and learned that only a legal notice had been published, alerting taxpayers of the hearing and letting them know a copy of the proposal could be viewed at City Hall.

The Register reported that the town clerk confirmed that the hearing notice was posted on the city’s website and in a local newspaper, but said in an effort to save money, the city opted not to publish a one-page summary in the paper, saying that it would be too expensive to place a full-page ad containing the budget’s details.

“How do you get the taxpayers out if the budget is not posted on the city website or in the paper?” Knapp said. “We need to be a little more transparent. If it’s not in the newspaper, if it’s not on the website, how are Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer supposed to review or look at a budget?”
Ansonia Democratic Town Committee chair questions transparency of mayor’s budget – New Haven Register (4.13.2016)

City Council Adopts Public Notice Policy After Botched Sale
Following the botched sale of a public park to a developer – a sale which proceeded without a single public notice or public hearing – a Washington town has taken steps to make sure that sort of error doesn’t happen again.

Nearly 60 Kent residents turned out in February to let city officials know they were not happy with the city’s sale of the 10-acre park to a developer who planned to build 64 homes on the site. The park was sold in September 2015 after an executive session; residents found out about the sale when the city posted  a sign about the planned development.

“We kind of learn as we go,” city council president Bill Boyce said at a meeting on May. “I think this is a first step of us trying to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes again. We all have learned from the Pine Tree incident.”

The Kent Reporter newspaper reported that on May 17, the council unanimously adopted a policy to establish a public participation process before deciding to sell, transfer or exchange city-owned property. The policy requires at least one public meeting, a public notice published in the newspaper and a mailing to property owners near the site. City staff acknowledge that none of those steps were taken by the council before the Pine Tree Park sale.

Following the public outcry about the sale of the park, the city county reversed its decision, paying about $800,000 to settle with the developer.
Kent City Council adopts policy for selling surplus property – Kent (Washington) Reporter (5.19.2016)
Kent plans policy change for selling surplus property – Kent (Washington) Reporter (5.13.2016)
Residents vow to stop Kent’s Pine Tree Park sale – Kent (Washington) Reporter (2.4.2016)

State Legislation

The PNRC legislative chart has been updated and can be downloaded here.

Articles & Editorials

California: Taxpayer Drops Notice Suit When County Asks Him to Pay
Controversy has resurfaced over last year’s grand jury finding that Marin County officials in northern California violated state law by providing inadequate public notice about the long-term taxpayer cost of pension increases. The increases to certain county employee pensions, given more than a decade ago, were reported on in the August/September 2015 of Record.

Mill Valley taxpayer David Brown sued the county to seek a court ruling “to bring clarity to the legal fuzziness surrounding approval of pension increases that are now a driving factor in local tax increases and cuts in public services,” reported the Marin Independent Journal.

The grand jury found that county supervisors, as well as the San Rafael City Council, and Novato and Southern Marin fire district boards, “granted no less than 38 pension enhancements from 2001 to 2006, each of which appears to have violated disclosure requirements and fiscal responsibility requirements of the California Government Code,” the newspaper reported.

Brown filed his lawsuit in March contesting how county officials handled the 2014-15 grand jury report. Brown said he withdrew his suit May 4 after the county administration set aside $50,000 to hire an outside attorney to defend the county. But, the newspaper reports, the county also asked the court for Brown to pay court costs if the county won.

Brown withdrew his suit on May 4, saying that he could not afford to proceed with his complaint.

“Such a heavy-handed strategy sends a message to taxpayers that they risk substantial financial penalty if they question the county in court,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial condemning the county’s actions.

Marin County counsel defends handling of grand jury report – Marin Independent Journal, San Rafael, California (5.10.2016)
Editorial: Intimidating a taxpayer with court fees – Marin Independent Journal (5.7.2016)

Oregon County Uses Public Notice to Find Owner of Beaten Dog
An Oregon county has used a public notice in its attempt to find the owner of a badly beaten dog.

Earl, an 18-month-old terrier mix, was found beaten nearly to death in a parked car in late April, The Register-Guard newspaper reported. Earl was found by Eugene, Oregon, police following a report from a mall security guard. Police arrested one man at the scene and charged him with aggravated animal abuse, as well as drug charges. The man said he was watching the dog for a friend named Jordan Woody.

Unable to locate Earl’s alleged owner, the Lane County District Attorney’s Office placed an advertisement in The Register-Guard, asking for the owner to come forward or lose custody of Earl forever.

“If you have any interest in the seized and impounded animal described,” the ad reads, “you must claim that interest or you will automatically lose that interest.”

Lane County Chief Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman told the newspaper that the public notice is a legal requirement in order to determine Earl’s future, since the dog is apparently owned by someone other than the person who is accused of having abused it.

A man by the name of Jordan Woody, according to the Lane County Jail log, was arrested April 28, two days after the assault on Earl, the newspaper reported. Woody was held until May 4 on several warrants, including methamphetamine possession and theft.
Authorities seeking owner of Earl, brown terrier mix – The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon (5.11.2016)
Police: Dog named Earl in critical condition – The Register-Guard (4.27.2016)

April 2016

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

Illinois: Sweeping Bill’s Sponsor Speaks to Publishers Before Proceeding
Sending a bill back to committee is one of the best ways to kill it. In the case of Illinois House Bill 6098, it signaled a decision by the bill sponsor, Rep. Tom Dammer, to engage in discussion with newspaper publishers before proceeding with his proposal to eliminate virtually all local-government newspaper notices and replace them with “electronic” notices. His bill would have gone a step further: submitting the history of local government to the digital vapor. It would have permitted any requirement for record preservation by microfilm or microfiche to be satisfied by a digital posting.  Demmer, a Republican, formerly served on his local county board in Dixon, Illinois. The Illinois Press Association says it will use the delay as an opportunity to demonstrate its progress in posting all notices on its Public Notice Illinois website.
Help oppose government takeover of public notices – Daily Journal, Kankakee, Illinois, and others (4.21.2016)

Louisiana: Public Notice Remains Part of Self-storage Law
A bill to weaken notification to self-storage tenants is moving through the Louisiana legislature. The legislation would eliminate the requirement to notify defaulting tenants by certified mail before putting their goods up for auction. But after efforts of the Louisiana Press Association to educate legislators on the need for public notice, the requirement for one-newspaper publication remains in the bill.

Digital Public Notice Continues to Lack Full Reach in US
An effort to supply western Massachusetts towns that lack cable service with access to internet broadband has stalled after the governor tabled consideration of $50 million in subsidies to build out networks for the towns. As a result, an estimated 32 communities in western Massachusetts still do not have high-speed internet access for their homes and businesses. Digital public notice provides additional “reach” for newspapers when they print the notices to create the official record. But as this news from Massachusetts highlights, for many Americans, the print notice is the only one they will see.
Baker administration hits ‘pause’ – The Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican (4.22.2016)
WiredWest: A Cooperative of Municipalities Forms to Build a Fiber Optic Network – Harvard University (4.20.2016) 

Pennsylvania, Ohio Newspapers Base Stories on Public Notices
A public notice indicating that a mining company has applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to build a mine has served as the basis for a news story in the Observer-Reporter of Washington, Pennsylvania.

Bob Niedbala, the reporter covering the story, wrote that Foundation Mining published a public notice about the application in a recent edition of the newspaper. Niedbala then followed up with the mining company and was told that the notice was a required part of a permitting process which started in 2008, and that “the fact that the company is continuing with the permit process doesn’t necessarily mean it will ever proceed with plans to construct the mine.”

Meanwhile, the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal used a public notice as the basis for a story on the closure of 107 bank branches as part of a proposed merger between Huntington and FirstMerit banks, including 20 in the newspaper’s local circulation area and others in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

“The bank filed its official merger applications Thursday with the Federal Reserve Bank and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency,” the newspaper reported. “Huntington Bank ran a legal notice in Thursday’s Akron Beacon Journal classified section, listing the branch closures and consolidations.”

The story went on to quote Huntington spokesman Brent Wilder, who told the newspaper that several factors were used to decide which branches would be closed, including proximity to the nearest branch, customer service and customer impact.

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. Kenneth Little, staff writer for the Greeneville (Tennessee) Sun, won the 2016 Public Notice Journalism Prize for coverage of a nursing home whose Medicare/Medicaid coverage was revoked by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The story followed publication of an official newspaper notice by HHS in the Sun noting “deficiencies” by the hospital.
Alpha continues permitting process for a new mine – Observer-Reporter (Washington, Pa.) (2.19.2016)
Huntington Bank will close 107 branches – Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal (3.10.2016)

Arizona Newspaper Calls Out Senator for “Pulling Wool Over Our Eyes”
The Sedona Red Rock (Arizona) News has called out its state senator for her efforts to move public notices out of newspapers.

“Arizona Sen. Sylvia Allen [R-District 6], who represents the Verde Valley, wants to deprive the public of our ability to see legal notices,” wrote Christopher Fox Graham, the newspaper’s managing editor.Allen is vice chairwoman of the committee that last week approved Arizona House Bill 2447 and attempted to get it passed on the floor of the Senate.”

The Arizona Newspapers Association reports that the bill would require the Arizona Corporation Commission to establish and maintain a searchable database for filings relating to business entities with a known place of business in a county with a population of more than 800,000 persons (i.e., Maricopa and Pima). The database would serve as an alternative to publication in newspapers of general circulation.

“Thus, the effect of the bill would be to eliminate newspaper publication requirements by businesses located in Maricopa and Pima counties in newspapers in those two counties,” Paula Casey said in the association’s April 16 Legislative Alert. Newspaper publication would still be required for filings for businesses in all other counties in the state. The effective date of the bill would be December 31, 2016. 

Casey noted that while the bill initially failed in the Senate, it is expected to be reconsidered this month.
Sen. Allen votes to pull the wool over our eyes – Sedona Red Rock (Arizona) News (3.17.2016)

Arizona House Speaker Bans Journalists From the Floor
The Arizona Capitol-Times is a vigorous defender of public notice, having gone to the mat for the past several years with a powerful senator over his desire to eliminate corporation notices. But when the defender is also the publisher of a hard-hitting news team, sometimes the legislature is tempted to retaliate.

Such was the case when the C-T uncovered the use of an official car by the House speaker as he chased votes in his quest for a Congressional office. Soon, new rules for the capital press gang were issued, requiring extensive background checks. Because one C-T reporter allegedly had a misdemeanor conviction in his background, he would have been banned from the floor.

But the speaker may not have reckoned with the reaction he got. Reporters declined to submit to the background checks and covered the legislature from the visitors’ gallery. Soon, the outcry forced the speaker to reconsider his new rules and the reporters were readmitted.
Arizona Lawmaker Drops Ban on Journalists who Refuse Checks – AP.org (4.12.2016)

Voters in Pennsylvania County to Decide if Some Notices Stay in Newspapers
In November, voters in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, will decide whether some public notices should remain in newspapers. The Northampton County Council voted 9-0 to place a referendum question on the November ballot that would end the practice of advertising for county jobs in newspapers and rely instead on online job postings, The Express-Times reported.

County controller Stephen Barron told the newspaper that the county spends some $200,000 a year in public notice advertising, including job postings. The county’s home rule charter, in effect since 1978, requires the county to advertise job openings in two newspapers of general circulation. If approved, the referendum would require each vacant job position to be “broadly advertised;” a specific advertising medium was not identified, the newspaper reported.

Express-Times publisher Al Kratzer said that job ads in the newspaper also go online on lehighvalleylive.com, and that advertising jobs through national job sites don’t deliver that local audience or a print component and are more expensive.
Voters to decide if county should halt newspaper job ads – The Express-Times (Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania) (3.9.16)

Nebraska Newspaper Picking Up the Pieces After Fire
The Frontier County Enterprise in Curtis, Nebraska, is picking up the pieces after a fire destroyed the 130-year-old building which housed the venerable newspaper. The fire was reported just after 3 a.m. on April 17 by a local teen returning home from a prom, the North Platte Telegraph reported.

While the building was a total loss, many of the newspaper’s archives – doubtless containing thousands of public notices – had been sent to the Nebraska state archives and will live on in microfilm, the Telegraph reported.

Just hours after the fire, Tori Will, who owns the weekly with her husband Bob, was on her way to North Platte to buy office supplies, including pens, printers and computers so they could publish the week’s edition, likely just two days late. “To remain a legal newspaper, we have to print 52 issues a year,” she told the Telegraph.
Blaze destroys Enterprise in Curtis – North Platte (Nebraska) Telegraph (4.18.2016)

State Legislation

The PNRC legislative chart is being updated. Please visit the website for periodic revisions.

Articles & Editorials

Local Paper Reports on Water Problems, TV Station Points to Notice
Newsrooms at newspapers are often all too shy about reporting on the public notices sold by their advertising colleagues. The Public Notice Resource Center encourages reporting on public notices, which often make great news stories.

Rarer still are the times the local TV station points to the public notice carried in the local newspaper, but that is exactly what happened recently when a Tennessee community faced concerns over drinking water quality.Residents in one Rhea County community are uneasy after learning their drinking water was recently not up to federal standards. The Dayton Water Department insists the water is safe to drink, placing a public notice in the local paper,” reported Chattanooga-based NBC affiliate WRCB-TV. The TV station went on to name the page of the newspaper – 13 – which featured the notice.

While the local newspaper did refer to the notice in its story on water quality, it did not link to the notice or otherwise mention that it had been published by the newspaper. The notice now appears on the Tennessee Press Association’s website.
Dayton City officials: ‘Water is safe to drink’ – WRCB-TV, Chattanooga, Tenn. (3.24.2016)
City addresses tainted water issue – The Herald-News, Rhea, Tenn. (3.28.2016)

Public Notice Faces Online-only Challenge in Canada, Too
Newspapers and citizens in the Canadian province of British Columbia are hearing what is already a common refrain in the United States: Local governments want to reduce the amount of public notice in B.C. by moving newspaper notices to the web.

While local governments in the province are still, for the moment, required to place public notices in newspapers, the Union of B.C. Municipalities has tried to convince the provincial government to make a change to notice laws. The Cowichan Valley Citizen reports that the lobbying group “wants the government to allow communities to use a variety of media to circulate their notices, providing they prove that they can reach the same or more residents as newspapers.”

Canadian citizens would face many of the same limitations to receiving notice online as do their neighbors to the south. “Many seniors are not connected online and still look to the newspapers for information that’s important to them,” Vicki Holman, executive director of the Cowichan Seniors Community Foundation, told the newspaper.

Tim Shoults, president of the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association, said that studies show that engagement is three times higher from print compared to online material, and that online notices are only effective if people know where to look.

“Reducing statutory advertising in newspapers … will harm the newspaper’s ability to serve those communities and cover local government,” he told the Citizen, noting that social media companies such as Facebook and Google “don’t create any local content and they don’t pay professionals to create the local content and to cover local government.”

Shoults told the Citizen that 79% of English-speaking adults in British Columbia have read a community paper in the past week.
Local government wants to cancel advertising requirement – Cowichan Valley Citizen (Duncan. B.C.) (2.19.2016)

March 2016

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

PNRC Files Comments Against EPA Proposal to Remove Print Notices
February 29, 2016, Falls Church, Va. — The Public Notice Resource Center (PNRC) today filed comments urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to deprive the public of newspaper notices relating to the approval of permits under the Clean Air Act (CAA). EPA is considering notifying the public about CAA permits only on a government website.

PNRC was joined in the comments by the 41 other organizations representing newspapers and journalists that are listed below.

On Dec. 29, EPA announced its intention to reduce the public notice it currently provides in connection with most CAA actions by eliminating the requirement that the notices run in local newspapers near the potential sources of pollution EPA is planning to approve.

“If EPA moves forward with this proposal, it will increase the likelihood that the people who stand to feel the greatest impact from its decisions will be left in the dark until it’s too late,” said Bradley L. Thompson II, president of PNRC. “The Agency’s determination to inform citizens about its plans by posting notices in obscure corners of its website isn’t sufficiently transparent. It is especially unfortunate when pollsters tell us people are suspicious of Washington. Keeping these notices local in places where readers will find them is a good way to combat public cynicism.”

PNRC’s comments note that EPA based its proposal on the mistaken assumption that citizens affirmatively seek public notices and will regularly visit its website to learn about its plans. PNRC also notes that for over 200 years lawmakers have required public notices to be published in newspapers because they offer the best opportunity to reach local, civically engaged readers who are most likely to have a personal interest in the plans and activities described in the notices.

PNRC is a nonprofit organization that provides research and public education materials on the use of public notice in newspapers. It is supported by contributions from newspaper organizations throughout the U.S., including members of the American Court and Commercial Newspapers and most state press associations.

Click here for a copy of PNRC’s comments.

PNRC’s Rush Touts Importance of Notice in Foreclosure
The Public Notice Resource Center lent its voice to Virginia newspapers in their fight against a bill in the state legislature which would have removed transparency from the foreclosure process. Harkening back to last year’s Oscar-nominated The Big Short, PNRC co-director Tonda Rush warned that the bill would have ended the practice of putting a notice in the newspaper when a foreclosure is about to occur.

In the movie, a character identified only as the “Tattooed Renter” protests the unfairness in the world when he learns that he is about to be booted out of his home because the landlord has not paid the mortgage. “Man, I paid my rent,” he cries.

Rush notes that paying the rent wouldn’t matter when the sheriff comes around. “Not one bit. When the mortgage defaults, the banks want the keys.”

“The memory of millions booted to the curb after the crash of Lehman Brothers has faded into memory for many. It is barely even an issue in the Presidential debates. Then along came the movie, to remind us a lot that went wrong then could still go wrong,” Rush wrote. “Dodd Frank made some reforms. But if the mortgage isn’t paid, Tattooed still loses his home.”

Guest commentary: Public notices should stay in newspapers – Falls Church (Va.) News-Press (2.25.2016)

Tennessee Reporter Wins Public Notice Journalism Award
Kenneth Little, staff writer for the Greeneville (TN) Sun, has won the 2016 Public Notice Journalism Prize for coverage of a nursing home in Limestone, TN, whose Medicare/ Medicaid coverage was revoked by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The story followed publication of an official newspaper notice by HHS in the Sun noting “deficiencies” by the hospital.

Kenneth Little, staff writer for the Greeneville (TN) Sun, has won the 2016 Public Notice Journalism Prize for coverage of a nursing home in Limestone, TN, whose Medicare/ Medicaid coverage was revoked by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The story followed publication of an official newspaper notice by HHS in the Sun noting “deficiencies” by the hospital.

The award will be presented March 17 by the Public Notice Resource Center at the National Press Club in Washington DC in conjunction with National Newspaper Association’s Community Newspaper Leadership Summit.  Little and his publisher, Gregg Jones, will be present to receive the prize.

Read the PNRC’s complete press release here, and the winning story and original notice here.
Sun Staff Writer Receives National Journalism Award – The Greenville Sun (2.22.2016)

Arizona Watching Bill to Move Company Formation Notices Online
Newspapers in Arizona are keeping an eye on HB 2447 which, if approved, would require the Arizona Corporation Commission to set up a computer database as an alternative to publishing public notices in newspapers, which is, for the moment, required for new businesses and some corporate transactions. The bill has so far been rejected in the Senate committee, but could still arise this year.  The legislation is limited to the state’s two largest counties, both in the Phoenix area. The bill has passed the House and awaits hearing in the Senate.

The bill has been raised repeatedly by a powerful senator who has made its passage a personal goal, citing high publication costs. However, newspapers in the large Arizona cities report corporate notices typically cost only about $40.

The Sierra Vista Herald wrote in opposition to the bill that “casual observers of state government will miss the insidious design of this legislation to assure its passage and set up future extensions to further erode and eventually eliminate the need for printing public notices in newspapers. Once the database is built – at state expense and continuing state cost to maintain – it can only be financially justified by expanding its application to include other public notices and other counties.”

True to form, the Arizona Senate “Fact Sheet” on the bill predicts that “there is no anticipated fiscal impact to the state General Fund associated with this legislation.”

Time and again, state and local government leaders tell their constituents that moving public notices online  is “free,” without considering – whether willfully or ignorantly is anybody’s guess – that creating a website that virtually nobody will visit requires both staff time and money, all without the independence of being published by a newspaper.

And as the Herald notes in its editorial, “taxpayers will be paying the government for a service that is already available free of charge. The Arizona Newspapers and the Arizona Capitol Times currently pay for and maintain a searchable database for all public notices – including those for new businesses and corporate transactions.”
HB 2447 is costly, unnecessary, dangerous – Arizona Range News (2.17.2016)
At the Capitol: Bill would eliminate new business notices – Casa Grande Dispatch (1.29.2016)
Arizona Senate Fact Sheet for HB 2447

Kentucky State Websites Not Updated Since December
David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, has discovered that editors across the state are finding that many state government websites – including the site used to disseminate government news releases.

“KPA President Loyd Ford pointed out [a website] that’s apparently no longer needed or important,” Thompson told of Record. “That’s the website for state government news releases. If you go to http://migration.kentucky.gov/Newsroom/ you’ll find the last news release posted was December 19, 2015. That was about a week after Gov. Matt Bevin took office but a few weeks before other constitutional officers were sworn in.”

Thompson also notes that that website also contains links to the offices of the governor, first lady and lieutenant governor, all of whom list the formers occupants of those offices. The Secretary of State and Attorney General websites

“That’s similar to my experience earlier this week with the AG’s website,” he said. “I could learn all I wanted to know about Jack Conway, who is no longer Attorney General, but little about the current AG, Andy Beshear.”

This is exactly the concern newspapers, press associations and the Public Notice Resource Center have when state and municipal governments begin to talk about moving public notices to a state-run website: governments could possibly avoid the entire public notice process.

Bill to Put Maryland Tax Sale Notices Online Dies in State Senate
The Maryland Senate has killed a bill which would have put printed notices about properties which will be sold at a tax sale on a county website. The bill received an unfavorable report from the Budget and Taxation Committee and was withdrawn, but not before the Capital Gazette of Annapolis got in some good shots at the bill through an editorial.

“No website – government or not – can replace printed notices. We know there’s a growing perception that ‘everyone’ has online access. But that’s not true,” the newspaper wrote, citing Pew Research statistics that some 15% of Americans do not use the internet at all.

“Printed tax sale notices, incidentally, go online as well,” the editorial said. “Each print ad we get is automatically posted on capitalgazette.com and on the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association site specifically created for public notices. But we don’t imagine that’s where most people are going to see them.”

Our say: Printed tax sale notices are irreplaceable – Capital Gazette (Annapolis, Md.) (1.31.2016)

Interviews with Supporters of Public Notice

Of Record periodically discusses the challenges and opportunities in newspaper public notice with people who are deeply engaged in protecting this form of transparency.

This month’s interview is with Virginia Press Association’s veteran lobbyist and executive director Ginger Stanley. Shortly after OR requested the interview, Stanley announced her retirement from VPA after 28 years as its executive director.

OR: Ginger, Virginia’s legislature uncorked a handful of pretty serious bills this year. Was it an unusual year for you?
GS: Yes, a record number of bills, ten, were introduced in January. These anti-newspaper notice bills targeted all local and state government notices, utility company rate and fee schedules including proposed increases, procurement notices for request for proposals, and foreclosure notices.

OR: You were facing a bill to take all of the foreclosure notices out of newspapers.  What was your strongest argument against that legislation, in your opinion?
GS: The longstanding practice of advertising residential real estate foreclosures in newspapers of general circulation is a system that continues to provide timely and effective notice of an impending foreclosure sale both to interested parties and the community at large, as well as a documented historical record of the timing and content of each notice.  To the extent the proposed advertising provisions (posting at the courthouse and on the local court’s website) are in conflict with the bargained-for terms of any existing deed of trust, they seek to over-ride the contract between lender and borrower. This impairs contractual obligations in violation of Article I of the Constitution of Virginia. Less widespread notice raises the risk of fewer bidders at foreclosure sales, depressed sale prices, and increased deficiency amounts due from consumers to lenders. Less widespread notice means that friends and family members of homeowners who are in financial difficulty will have less opportunity to intervene and assist the borrower.

OR: What do you think was the genesis of such interest in Richmond in examining public notice this year?
GS: The increased interest in introducing legislation this year stems from more local governments asking their legislator to ‘jump on the band wagon’ and from the loss of some daily and weekly newspapers in northern Virginia. VPA has fought most of these bills year after year and so it has become almost a game to see how many positive votes the patrons of the bills can obtain.  The foreclosure bill was introduced by the Senate Majority leader who also removed the Capitol Correspondents from the floor of the Senate on the same day.  Neither the courts nor the bankers were supporting the measure’ in fact, no one but the majority leader spoke to the bill before the committee where it passed by one vote but failed on the Senate floor 21-17 with two members taking a walk.

OR: Does Virginia Press Association have an active corps of people who defend public notice? If so, how does it work?
GS: VPA has a coalition of likeminded organizations that see newspaper notification as good government. Although, some have stopped testifying over the nine years, we still have the Sierra Club, Conservation groups, ACLU, Associated General Contractors, and the Women’s Voter League in our camp. We keep them supplied with talking points and notify when the bills will be heard. This year, we only had one person to testify except for me. However, at one subcommittee hearing, twelve newspaper folks were in the audience and prepared to speak, if needed. Many of our members make phone calls, send emails and write editorials.

OR: What do you think people in government—legislators included—understand best about public notice in newspapers?
GS: I believe that most people in government understand the value of newspaper notification. The publics’ right to know what their government is doing or contemplating doing is best served by the printed word and not in the corner on some website that most do not know about.

OR: What do you think they understand least?
GS: The problem is that too many in government don’t understand how important accountability is to the process.

OR: Is this discussion really just about print versus digital?  Most Virginia newspapers put their printed notices in the Internet, don’t they?
GS: The discussion is not solely about print verses digital. More and more newspapers are putting these notices on all platforms which tremendously increases the exposure. The debates are usually focused on a false-sense of financial savings to the local governing bodies.

OR: How well do you think our industry does in promoting the values of public notice to our readers? What should we be doing more or better?
GS: Because of the longstanding threat of losing public notices, Virginia newspapers have taken several steps to increase public awareness. These include headers in color to show some of the notices and where to find them in the newspaper, reader ads, surveys including asking readers to call or email supporting the publics’ right to know, writing articles because the notice needed further attention and large banners drawing the reader to the legal notice pages. New strategies are needed and as our industry continues to accommodate readers by making the news available all day, anywhere, these notices need to get the same careful attention. These are special ads that must be treated as important as they are to the citizens and the newspapers.


State Legislation
The PNRC legislative chart is being updated. Please visit the website for periodic revisions.

Articles & Editorials

Publisher: ‘I Was a Lobbyist for a Day’
Roger Watson, publisher of the News Leader in Staunton, Virginia, took a day away from the office to “play lobbyist” with other members of the Virginia Press Association – and then took a the time to tell his readers why.

The VPA is concerned about several bills that would take public notices out of newspapers or limit the transparency of government,” he wrote. “So I, along with many other publishers and general managers from throughout the state, spent the day speaking with our legislators about those issues.

Watson says his day lobbying state legislators was “a big learning experience,” noting that the Virginia legislature was more efficient than he expected. “The sub-committee meeting I attended featured legislators sitting around a table, smaller than the one my Grandmother used for Sunday dinner, casually moving through the bills before them. There was little discussion, no grandstanding and no rancor.”

Visiting with your elected representatives – either on their turf or while they are home visiting constituents – can be an effective way to educate them about the importance of public notice, as none of the public notice bills the legislature was considering at the time of Watson’s visit were passed into law.

It’s worthwhile writing about it for your readers, too, so that they may help you take up the fight.
I was a lobbyist for a day – The News Leader (Staunton, Va.) (1.28.2016)

UK Sex Shop Owner Submits Old Public Notice on License Applications
William Beach, a sex shop owner in a small town near Manchester, England, could have his request to relicense his store refused after submitting fraudulent application documents – including a copy of a public notice he had paid to run previously. Under UK law, the shop was required to run a public notice in a local newspaper advertising in intent to renew his “sex entertainment license,” but local authorities discovered that rather than paying for new notices for his 2014 and 2015 applications, Beach simply sent them copies of the notice he had run in 2013.

Authorities discovered the fraud when they noticed information about a 2013 horse race on the back of the notices submitted in 2014 and 2015.

“The reverse side of the cutting contains exactly the same information about the 3:10 horse race at Newcastle on September 6, 2013, as the actual race card published that day,” authorities told the Accrington Observer.
Sex shop owner could be refused licence – Accrington Observer (2.24.2016)

Nonprofit Center Refutes Notice in Text Message, Then Building is Sold
A building in Memphis which hosted Johnny Cash in his first professional performance has been auctioned after being foreclosed. But a story published before the property was sold likely raised the public’s awareness of the role of public notices.

A public notice that the nonprofit Cooper Walker Place would be sold at auction was published in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis on January 7, which spurred a representative of the organizing to tell a newspaper reporter that the public notice was incorrect. “It’s not being sold – already covered. Nonstory really,” the representative texted the reporter.

The reporter included information about the foreclosure in his story, noting the amount of the loan and that the nonprofit organization has assumed the loan in April 2013, as well as that property taxes had not been paid in 2014 or 2015.

Despite the nonprofit’s claims to the contrary, the property was sold at auction shortly thereafter. A planned memorial to Cash in the front yard is still planned.

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 2015 contest was won by Kenneth Little, a staff writer for the Greeneville (Tennessee) Sun, for his coverage of a nursing home whose Medicare/Medicaid coverage was revoked by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Cooper Walker Place auctioned – The Commercial Appeal (2.11.2016)
Cooper Walker Place leader says building not being sold in foreclosure – The Commercial Appeal (1.9.2016)

January 2016

Featured Issues Regarding Public Notices

South Dakota County Website: Is it Official?
South Dakota’s Open Meetings Commission has ruled that Sully County, S.D., violated state law by not posting a public notice on the county’s website about four meetings at which zoning decisions were made allowing a proposed ethanol plant, the Capital Journal has reported.

Adam Altman, an Aberdeen attorney representing residents opposed to the ethanol plant, filed a complaint with the commission after his earlier complaints were rejected by a state court. Altman’s complaint with the commission focused on whether www.sullycounty.net was, in fact, the county’s official website.

Jack Hieb, an Aberdeen attorney representing the county, argued that the website was not an official website, but was rather one built and run by a deputy sheriff who did it on his own initiative and his own time, party to help the county but mostly to learn how to administer a website, the newspaper reported. Hieb said county commissions did not authorize the site and paid little attention to it.

The website came into question at other times during 2015, the newspaper reported, including once in February when county officials posted a disclaimer on the site stating that it was not the county’s website for regular information.

The Open Meetings Commission found, from a reading of the meeting minutes posted on the website, that the county had in fact for several months in 2013 and 2014 paid a Pierre company for hosting the site.  The newspaper reported that Open Meeting commissioners said they were persuaded by one commissioner’s comments that the county was evading responsibility for maintaining properly the website for which it had been paying.
State panel rules Sully Co. violated state open meetings laws – Capital Journal, Pierre, S.D. (12.16.2015)

Business Organization Lends Support to Newspapers in Florida Notice Fight
Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), sometimes known as “the voice of Florida business,” has lent its support to newspapers in the ongoing fight to change a state law that requires self-storage facilities to publish notices in newspapers before selling the contents of a storage unit. Under a bill currently in the state legislature, self-storage facilities would be allowed to publish such a sale on its own website.

“There are a myriad of instances where a small business renting a self-storage unit may not get proper notice under this proposal,” Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF, wrote in a column published in The Tampa Tribune. “For example, the self-storage unit could make a billing error leading it to sell business assets. Or a small business owner, for reasons outside of their control, could be left in a position where they are not receiving notice that their assets are in danger of being seized and sold, simply because they are not home.”

More information about self-storage laws, including a downloadable booklet, is available free of charge to partners of PNRC.
Do not water down the transparency provided by the publishing and posting of public notices – The Tampa Tribune (1.13.2016)
Business lobby sticks up for newspapers in storage wars – Florida Politics (St. Petersburg, Fla.) (12.1.2015)

There’s Still Time to Enter the Public Notice Journalism Award Contest
Jim Lockwood, a staff writer at the Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pennsylvania, continues to report on public notices which have been published in the Times-Tribune. Lockwood, who won the 2016 Public Notice Journalism award for his reporting on a proposed commuter tax, reported in December on the Scranton Sewer Authority’s special meeting for a proposed purchase of the city’s sewer system.

Other reporters, including Russ Corey, a staff writer at the Times Daily in Florence, Alabama, also use public notices as sources of news. Corey reported recently on a notice in the Times Daily about a development along the Tennessee River that would include a resort, restaurants and retail shops. Corey used language from the public notice itself to supplement interviews with city staff. And in Mitchell, South Dakota, The Daily Republic’s Evan Hendershot reported on a resident’s complaint about the city forcing her to pay for an expensive sidewalk on her short, “dead-end” street, mentioning the public notice in the fourth graf of the story. (Another reporter at that paper won the first Public Notice Journalism award; we applaud the focus the Daily Republic’s newsroom places on public notice reporting.)

State press associations are urged to begin reviewing their Better Newspaper Contest entries to nominate stories for the 2016 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. The award is sponsored by the Public Notice Resource Center. Entries may be submitted by email any time before February 1.

The award – including a $700 prize – will be presented in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2016.
Scranton Sewer Authority to hold public hearing – The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. (12.5.2015)
SSA Public Notice as published in the Times-Tribune; this graphic accompanied the online edition of the story
Sewer authority closer to system sale or lease – The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. (12.2.2015)
Public hearing scheduled for major Sheffield resort development – TimesDaily, Florence, Ala. (12.9.2015)
Sidewalk battle building again – The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.) (1.4.16)

Connecticut Town Cites Delayed Public Notice in Delay of School Vote
Town officials in New Canaan, Connecticut, say that a print newspaper’s failure to distribute a public notice caused them to push back a final vote on a school building project by about two weeks. A notice regarding the project was required to be published in a print newspaper “once a week for two successive weeks.”

“It appears that because of some issues with the publication of the required notice in the local paper for two consecutive weeks, that because of a timing issue on the first publication notice, a strict reading of the law and a cautionary reading of the requirements would provide counsel that the town should delay the vote to a later date, when we can be sure that everyone has had plenty of notice of the meeting if they wanted to attend or opine on the vote,” First Selectman Rob Mallozzi told the New Canaanite. “We always want to err on the cautious side.”
Botched public notice prompts delay in Saxe vote – The New Canaanite (New Canaan, Conn.) (11.18.2015)

PNRC Releases Foreclosure Notice Talking Points, Editorial
As of early 2016, PNRC is beginning to see some nasty fights on removing foreclosure notices from newspapers – and there’s the potential for more.PNRC has developed an editorial and a set of talking points which can be tailored for your state-specific needs. Partners of PNRC can access both the editorial and the talking points here.

Twitter Experiences “Global Disruptions”
While elected officials at the state and municipal levels continue to explore the idea of moving public notices away from newspapers and onto websites – often websites controlled by the very government agencies issuing the notices – Twitter announced that technical problems in a recent code change had caused many of its 300 million users from staying connected or from logging on to the social network.

Facebook has also experienced a number of (generally brief) outages in the past 18 months.

“Because Twitter is an important news source, the shutdowns disrupted the global conversation,” the New York Times reported. “When other technology and media companies have faced similar problems in the past, people have often turned to Twitter to vent their frustrations – an outlet unavailable this time because the platform itself was the cause of the problem.”

State and local officials should consider whether their websites – most of which use code much less robust than that of Twitter – are really the best way to share information with their constituencies. PNRC believes that information about government activities must be accessible in order for people to make well-informed decisions.
Twitter Experiences Worldwide Disruptions – The New York Times (1.19.2016)

State Legislation

Thirty-seven state legislatures swing into action in January 2016, and an outbreak of public notice bills has already arrived on publishers’ desks.

Leading the pack may be the most serious – an effort in Virginia to bring an end to foreclosure public notices. The bill, introduced by a Williamsburg senator whose law practice includes financial institutions, would shift the public notice information to a Virginia Circuit Court website, mandating only a “small ad” in local newspapers to call attention to the website, the bill says. The legislation is S560.

Virginia Press Association is leading a fly-in day at the Richmond Capitol Building on January 27 and has already mobilized its grassroots advocates to help legislators understand why posting notices on a court website won’t inform the public.

Florida Press Association continues to battle against obscure public storage notices, dealing with twin bills carried over from December. Senate Republicans challenged newspaper witnesses on statements that newspapers post notices to their websites. One senator was scrolling on a laptop during the hearing and pronounced she did not see the notices. Public storage lobbyist testified that people no longer read the newspaper.

PNRC will be tracking key bills again this session. A list of those bills will be posted periodically on our website.


Articles & Editorials

Florida County Monkey Breeding Facility Approved Without Notice
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has drawn attention to a possible monkey breeding facility in Hendry, County, Florida, which was approved without public input, through a column published in the Fort Myers News-Press.

“[The facility] would raise thousands of macaques destined to be sold to the biomedical research industry,” wrote Stephen Wells, the ALDF’s executive director. “Officials approved the permits for the facilities in backrooms with developers, without any public notice whatsoever, violating Florida’s open government law.”

While the ALDF relied on an emotional argument – “Having one of these facilities in your backyard doesn’t only come with knowing that animals are being bred under cruel and inhumane conditions, but also with the potential for these animals to carry diseases like Ebola, Herpes B, tuberculosis, and parasites” – the column does illustrate the importance of public notice in informing Americans about what their state and local governments are doing in their name.
County officials development approval lacking public input – Fort Myers News-Press (12.10.2015)