Friday, March 13, 2015

Michigan one step closer to removing public notices from newspapers; issue affects all communities

On Thursday the Michigan House Local Government Committee passed HB 4183 out of committee to the House floor. The bill would remove all public notices from newspapers by the year 2025. Keeping public notices in newspapers and ensuring open government, affects all journalists, newspapers and members of the community and is an issue that all community newspapers should be discussing, especially because Sunshine Week is next week. Bill Speer, president of the Michigan Press Association, wrote a column in response to the move. Here is Speer's column:

Bill Speer
Local government officials say removing notices from newspapers saves money that can be spent on police and fire services. But they fail to say that these notices are a miniscule amount of their operating budgets. In one Michigan community, a $4 million budget pays $680—.00017 of its budget—in a given year. These same groups have yet to show any verifiable data on the net cost savings on such legislation. Yet they have been successful in getting legislators in Lansing to consider such a measure. 

Efficient, reliable and accountable public notice is essential for the local governments of Michigan to move in synch with their tax paying citizens and provide transparency. While the technology of information delivery continues to evolve and change, the responsibility of government to inform its constituents has not, and newspapers have adapted to the information age by developing websites that are visited far more often than governmental websites. Newspapers, as private businesses, have an incentive to provide their products and services at the lowest possible cost. 

It's vital to protecting taxpayers rights that Michigan government's maintain an independent third party platform for these notices to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt what notice was provided. 

With notices printed in a newspaper, if there are challenges, taxpayers would have an authentic record to use in court to force government to fix problems. Web-only posting would allow government to cover up mistakes because the Internet is constantly changing (as are the platforms used to provide information) and can be corrupted by viruses and other tools used by hackers. 

The security of notices in a print publication combined with the online reach and accessibility of local newspaper websites will provide the public with the most secure and dynamic notice possible at competitive and reasonable cost. Help us protect your rights, your property and your taxpayer dollars. Call your state legislators and urge them to vote no on HB 4183.

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