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The Facts about Public Notices

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Looking for a good argument or quote to help fight to keep public notices public? This page has exactly what you need. Skim through the talking points, read a few articles or check out quotes from civic leaders.

TALKING POINTS

Not everyone is using the Internet
According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 21 percent of North Carolinians have no internet connection available at all. Someone who can’t afford a computer or has to find a way to get to a public agency to use one will likely not spend their time searching for an obscure government website on the off chance there’s a public notice they want to see. Newspapers are everywhere: at your door, in restaurants, on park benches, in coffee shops and libraries. Newspaper readership is rising among those who do have access to our digital and online products. We offer access in hand and online. Governments, who created these advertising rules themselves years ago to avoid suggestions of back room deals and sweetheart bidding, can’t match our reach.

Potential to hold newspapers hostage
Here’s a scary thought. Anti-notices legislation is a mechanism for governmental misbehavior. Any bill that allows even a local option to hide notices on government web sites gives governments the option of threatening newspapers: if we don’t offer favorable coverage, they will take notices out of newspapers. That’s bad government and bad public policy.

The fox guarding the hen house
Having an independent, non-governmental watchdog be a part of the public notice process better protects the interests of citizens. Newspapers serve that role. We proofread the ads to make sure they are published according to legally required time tables, and we provide affidavits that prove publication. And, because newspapers are kept on file for years and are available for later review, citizens always have the ability to find out what was done in the past in their communities. If local governments handle the entire process on their own, what trust can citizens have in the process? Some governments balk at responding to the most routine public records requests – how will you get a copy of an ad that ran without hassle or high copying charges? And will governments be able to add the cost and time to ensure their web sites are maintained as public records?

Thought they were for job creation?
Politicians on both sides of the aisle promised that they supported creation of jobs in the private sector. However, if they took public notice advertising out of newspapers, that could cost newspaper employees in your own community to be out of a job. Meanwhile, the local governmental bodies would have to increase their payrolls and expenses to do all that newspapers do with public notice advertising. It could be considered a government takeover of private business functions.

Why publication requirements exist in the first place
State officials realized decades ago that far too many government officials were making decisions without alerting taxpayers in their communities that they were even considering an action. This was particularly true when sweetheart deals were being made. Is there reason to believe that public officials can police themselves now? Too many political scandals during the past few years indicate otherwise. History does repeat itself. Why make it easier for business to be conducted in the dark?

An unfunded mandate
Local governments have complained for years of being told by state and federal government to spend money on certain programs without being given the means to pay for them. They call them unfunded mandates. Moving the responsibility of public notice advertising back onto local governments means more expenses will have to be paid out of property tax revenue. Meanwhile, businesses that pay property tax (like newspapers) will have less money to operate.

Property tax delinquent notices printed in newspapers
Yes, your county government spends a lot of money on an annual basis printing the names of property owners who have failed to pay their taxes. But did you know that the counties charge those people extra to cover the cost of that advertising? Plus, by being printed in the newspaper, more people get the word of who hasn't paid yet. Imagine that your mortgage holder accidentally failed to pay your tax out of your escrow account. You might never catch that error if you had to remember to go searching for that information online. Printed in the local newspaper, you (or someone you know) is more likely to discover the problem.

Show us the money! What are the actual savings vs. spending?
Backers of this bill say hiding notices on government websites will save local governments money. Who says? No local government has substantiated that claim – especially in light of the added costs that will fall to them to run a better website, maintain it, provide proof of publication, increase security and keep up on changes in the law that will impact running public notices. Newspapers cover all of those costs now, and add some services for free – we run the ads on our mobile and online sites – and make them available to anyone interested for free. You don’t have to be a web subscriber to see them!

Yes, money is involved for the newspapers
These ads are, of course, important to the revenue of newspapers at this critical time in our economic history, but we do a crucial service by running these ads correctly, in a timely manner and we also offer free add-ons – we run them on our web sites for no extra cost, and we produce proof that they ran to anyone who asks. Those who oppose the public’s right to know say this is just a government subsidy for newspapers. Newspapers do good work in running these ads, complying with the law and offering governments a lower rate in most places because they have to advertise so much. Newspapers earn our keep. And if you want to think of a subsidy, newspapers in turn subsidize their communities by covering local events, community projects, Little League and civic events – for no charge.

 

ARTICLES

Here's a sample of stories that ran during the 2013 legislative session. The 2014 short session opens May 14.

Controversial public notice bill passes Senate
THE FREE PRESS, Kinston
There’s a saying regarding picking fights with newspapers and bad ideas. And then there’s S.B. 287, a bill sponsored by Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, that passed the N.C. Senate 26-23 on second reading earlier this week. The bill allows a select group of local governments to opt out of posting public notices in newspapers, which is required by law. Public notice advertisements make up a portion of newspaper funding and are regarded by open government advocates as a necessary part of government transparency. Read more.


Bill could move legal notices from newspapers to the Internet 
SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS,Waynesville
In several counties in Western North Carolina, a showdown between the printed word and the digital age could soon take place. A bill has passed the N.C. Senate that allows some town and county governments in the region to opt out of placing legal and public notices in the community newspapers of record and instead put them on a government website. The debate has fiscal conservatives and proponents of local government autonomy pitted against skeptics who believe the losers will be residents who will no longer be able to keep a watchful on their elected officials. Read more.


Tommy Tucker, North Carolina state senator, confronts publisher at public hearing
THE HUFFINGTON POST
A Republican state senator in North Carolina told a newspaper publisher to "be quiet" during a public hearing Tuesday on legislation that could shift public notification of local government actions online and away from print. Read more.


Public notices for everyone, not just those online
STARNEWS, Wilmington
By Sen. Thom Goolsby (R)-Wilmington
Several local governments are attempting to rewrite the laws on public notice. They claim that they can save money by not advertising their actions in local newspapers...It is not unheard of for government to be penny wise and pound-foolish. In this age of bloated bureaucracies and out-of-control spending, some things are just worth the money. The public has a right to know what its government is doing. Whenever officials and bureaucrats line up to tell you that they want to save you money by obscuring their activities, you should be waryRead more.


Fees charged to late-payers cover cost of county's advertisement
NEWS & RECORD, Greensboro
Delinquent on your property taxes? The county tacks on an extra $8 per parcel to cover the cost of printing your name in the paper in an effort to collect those late taxes. ... “We don’t pay for that advertising,” Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said last week. “We charge people who are delinquent a fee that pays for those ads, so they end up paying for it.” Read more.


Haywood added to public notice legislation
THE MOUNTAINEER, Waynesville
Proposed local legislation in North Carolina could change long-standing laws requiring government agencies to notify residents of government meetings, public hearings, proposed ordinances, zoning changes and other important government activities. Senate Bill 287, filed March 13, would allow Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Union and Wake counties and their municipalities to publish public notices on government websites instead of in the local newspaper. Read more.

QUOTES

"When we pass laws and taxes and regulations and we hear the private sector yell 'it’s too expensive' our response is 'that’s your cost of doing business.' Well, members, our cost of doing business in public notifications to our citizens is a cost that we should incur."
MARILYN AVILA
Fromer Republican State Representative from Wake County

"The amount of money spent on these notices is small compared to the debt that can be accumulated without your knowledge or vote."

RHETT DUSENBURY
Town Commissioner, Mooresville


“The whole thing just makes no sense at me to all. It’s not a major savings, and it denies the public’s right to know through newspapers what their government is doing.”

BOB SCOTT
Alderman, Franklin


“If you’re sitting reading a newspaper and see the legal notices, you might be prompted to catch something you wouldn’t normally catch. That happens to me sometimes — I see something in the newspaper and take an interest in it."

MARK SWANGER
Chairman, Haywood County Commission