Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Debating How Public Notices Are Published

Link to March 10 Capital Times column by Peter D. Fox, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

Excerpt: Because there are limitless government activities that affect our lives, state law contains dozens upon dozens of directions for how citizens should be notified of those actions. Some laws apply to different levels of government while others apply specifically to towns, villages, cities, counties or school boards. Some laws deal with publication in official newspapers; others deal simply with posting notices in public places -- out among citizens.

The four bills would reduce the long-standing requirements for three public postings of notices in situations as varied as abandoned goods in storage units, giving notice of public meetings, and the court-ordered sale of personal goods or property to satisfy a judgment. They are Senate Bills 276 and 541, and Assembly Bills 546 and 707.

Each of these bills would eliminate at least one physical posting of a public notice. The trade-off is to “allow” citizens to go to a government-run website to ferret out their own information. And incredulously, one bill permits an “official” site that is owned by the Wisconsin Self Storage Association!
(I think that's because the bill, AB707, deals specifically with self-storage facilities, Peter.)

Senate Bill 276 / Assembly Bill 546. Applies to a governmental body of a city, village, town, or county (political subdivision), or school district.

1. Requires that a public notice of a meeting subject to open meetings law be posted on city, village, town, county, or school district web site. (Minutes from business conducted in open session must also be posted.)

2. Allows a town to meet requirement of law by posting in 3 places: town's web site, town hall, one other (undesignated) place. (Retiring Guy thinks there's more to this stipulation, but the Legislative Reference Bureau bill drafters are experts in obfuscation.)

Senate Bill 541. Addresses the requirement for the posting of public notices in cases where a judge orders that personal property or real estate be sold to satisfy a judgment against a person.

Assembly Bill 707. Addresses the current procedure that requires operators of a self−storage facilities to send two notices to the person who has failed to pay the rental fee at the facility before the operator may sell the personal property left in the facility.

The current law requires that an operator of a self-storage facility advertise the sale of the
personal property once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper.

Newspapers, of course, are up in arms above this kind of legislation as it threatens to cut of a longstanding source of revenue. It's bad enough that ad revenue had been dropping like the proverbial stone.

A sampling of the outcry.
Public notices on the internet: It just doesn’t work.

Public notices must remain public.

The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association has developed a statewide online database of public notices. A caveat, however, makes it very clear where members stand on the issue.

The public notice database on this site is not a substitute for the official publication that is required by law. You will still find those notices in your local newspaper. [Emphasis added.]

Where do you stand on the issue?

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