Public notices have been published in newspapers for hundreds of years. These notices are published by a variety of entities, including governments, courts, and individuals to notify the larger community of impending or recent actions. Notices are placed in newspapers to garner the broadest cross-section of audience and to provide a permanent record of the notice.
In recent years, county and municipal governments discussed moving government notices from printed newspapers to government websites. MDDC Press Association believes the state should not end the historic requirement to publish this vital information in the format that is most secure, most likely to be read by the greatest number of citizens, and the most financially efficient for local governments. The government has a fundamental responsibility to ensure adequate notification to the public of its actions. That responsibility cannot be abandoned in favor of cost savings that may prove to be elusive in light of a decrease in effective public notice.'
There are five critical points to remember about public notices:
- Independence. Newspapers are uniquely qualified to play this role, since they are separate from, and independent of, the governments whose actions may be called into question if the adequacy of a particular notice is later challenged. Moreover, newspapers continue to be the “gold standard” of public notice because they are independently verifiable; it can be proven what was published in a newspaper on a particular day. This assures citizens the process is conducted openly and above board.
- Audience. The Internet does have a role to play in expanding the availability of public notice. For this reason, our association has created a website that assembles the public notices printed in Maryland newspapers, at no cost to the government, and many members post public notices at no additional charge on their own websites. But notice on the Internet should supplement printed notice, not supplant it. This bill suggests that users will see the announcement of notices moving online in the publication and will put down their paper and go to the government website.
- Accessibility. The public won’t see legal notices if they don’t have computer or internet access, and significant segments of society either lack the desire to find information in this way or lack the financial means to purchase a computer. Further, newspapers offer readers a single, convenient location at which to find public notices, provided in the context of community news and information. Allowing individual government entities to publish notices on their respective websites would create a myriad of different locations that users must access to gain information about government actions.
- Verification. Security of websites is a vexing issue, for both private industry and governments. Hardly a day goes by without news of some website being hacked. The websites of local governments currently are used for information purposes, such as posting trash pickup schedules. They are not maintained to the highest level of security. However, public notices are legal documents. Even minor alterations could have major unforeseen consequences, potentially dragging the government into costly and wasteful litigation. Printed notices prove that the notice was correct and was given in a timely fashion. They offer a permanent, publicly available record of government action. This bill attempts to replicate this efficient process by mandating that a paper file be kept at the government office, available by PIA. This creates another hurdle for those seeking to verify and find the information and additional paperwork and recordkeeping by government workers.
- Support the private sector. Government should not supplant the private sector. Newspapers have been providing a valuable service to government for many years and these bills grow government and allow them to take on a service that has been provided ably by the private sector.
Public notices should stay in printed newspapers.
Press Clips about Keeping Notice in Newspapers
Public notice legislation heard in House, Montgomery Sentinel, 2/17/16
Newspaper Industry and Lawmakers Feuding Over Public Notice Requirements, Bethesda Beat, 2/12/16
Killing the press!, The Sentinel Newspapers, 2/11/16
Statewide bills propose end to newspaper notices on government meetings, Capital-Gazette, 2/8/16