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City vetoes support for Internet-only public notices

The city of Cedar Springs decided last week that the public’s right to know trumps budget cuts.

The city council vetoed support last week for state legislation that would allow municipalities to publish public notices on their websites instead of publishing them in newspapers. The Michigan Municipal League reportedly helped conceive the bills to save municipalities money.

“I would love to save $7,000 to $10,000 a year but I don’t agree with this,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Christine Fahl.

The agenda called for a resolution supporting the language in house bill 5858, one of six bills addressing the issue. Under the bill, the city would be able to post one public notice in their office, and post another in one of three places: on their website, in the newspaper, or on a public access television channel. Currently they must be published in a newspaper of record.

Cedar Springs Post Editor Judy Reed wrote the city a letter reminding them why publishing public notices in the newspaper are important to the public. The letter was read at the meeting. Some of her points included: public notices should be published in a medium independent of the municipality; they should be verifiable (such as through an affidavit) to make sure notice was properly given; they should be archivable; and they should be accessible to a broad range of people.

“There is a high demand for 100 percent government transparency and we believe taking public notices out of the newspaper would be a giant step backward,” said Reed.

All the council members agreed.

“I have a access to a computer but I don’t want to be trapped to a screen,” remarked Councilor Pat Capek.

“I think our job is to make it accessible to all the people,” said Councilor Pamela Conley.

“(Publishing only on the Internet) would eliminate a whole chunk of people,” noted Councilor Raymond Huckleberry.

Councilor Ronny Merlington acknowledged his love for newspapers, both the Grand Rapids Press and the Post, and said he hated to see them get any smaller.

“I appreciate the Post and what they do for the community,” said Councilor Ronny Merlington. “People are grabbing those Posts left and right. I want to be able to read my newspapers,” he said.

The decision was unanimous by the council to veto support for the language in the bill, and they directed City Manager Christine Burns to send a letter to our representative letting him know their decision.

Reed urges residents to call or write their state representatives to urge them to vote against the legislation.

The letter written to City Council:
April 8, 2010

The City of Cedar Springs
PO Box 310
66 South Main Street
Cedar Springs, MI 49319

Dear Cedar Springs City Council,

It is with much regret that we see your intention to support the language in House Bill 5848, a bill that would give cities the freedom to no longer publish legal notices in the area newspaper.  Instead, it says that they can post them in their office, and one of the following: on their own website, in the local newspaper, or the public education channel for the area.

As the city’s newspaper of record, The Cedar Springs Post holds published public notices in high regard. Public notices in newspapers are part of the three-legged stool of government accountability. (The other two are public meetings and public records.) Public notices help to inform the public on activities by the government and other public entities. Public notices have been included in newspapers from the beginning of the Republic. Now they are also on many newspapers’ websites.

A valid public notice should have four key elements:
* It should be published in a medium independent of the government or other entity compelled to provide notice.
* It should be verifiable so that citizens can satisfy themselves that notice was properly given. An affidavit from the newspaper attesting to the type and date of publication is the typical verification, and these are often used in litigation to demonstrate that due process requirements were met.
* It should be archivable so that future generations can retrieve it.
* It should be accessible to a broad range of people. Surveys demonstrate that a wide majority of citizens believe public notices should be in newspapers.

Publishing online does not meet those key elements.

There is a high demand from the public right now for 100 percent transparency in government.  We believe taking public notices out of newspapers would be a giant step backward.

Sincerely,

Judy Reed, Editor
The Cedar Springs Post
www.cedarspringspost.com

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One Response to “City vetoes support for Internet-only public notices”

  1. Paix says:

    Well the only problem with this is the City’s website likely has more visitors than the Cedar Springs Post has subscribers. The last numbers I saw showed 89% of people have internet access.

    I think the newspaper also needs to be honest with people that it has a financial interest in keeping this business and even more honest that its profits are so narrow that this loss would be devastating to a newspaper already struggling.

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