We don't kid ourselves around the ol' newspaper about the tenuous nature of legal notices being required to be published with us.
Government entities are required to publish notices in the dominant medium serving that area. In return, newspapers offer a vehicle of transparency for the public, a verification that governments are doing what they are supposed to do. Likewise, many court-related orders require legal notice postings in the newspaper. You'll find an example of that in the "Summons by Publication" on page 14 in this issue.
Every year, without fail, legislators introduce bills into the Colorado statehouse to move some or all of legal notices to the internet. This year was no exception with Senate Bill 18-156, "Concerning the Publication of Fiscal Information by a County." The bill sought to "relax requirements for counties to publish various financial reports in newspapers, changing the frequency and manner of how reports are published," wrote Gov. John Hickenlooper in his veto of the bill.
Specifically, counties are now required to publish in a legal newspaper their expense reports, monthly, and salary reports, twice a year. The vetoed bill would have eliminated that requirement beginning in 2020 and allowed counties to publish the information on their websites.
In handing down the veto, Hickenlooper noted that a nonpartisan accounting of cost savings per county if the bill had passed ranged from $100 to $500 per year. Hickenlooper said the bill was right, but the time was not, charging lawmakers to bring the bill back next year and define a start date based on an indefinable measure.
"We encourage the sponsors to bring this bill next year with trigger language taking effect not at a date certain, but rather once full broadband buildout is achieved," he wrote.
This is where we don't kid ourselves. Yes, legal notices and our relationship with local government entities as third-party verifiers of the public's right to know is a financial interest for us. But it's not a make-or-break line item, accounting for less than 2 percent of our gross.
We know that eventually small $100-$500 efforts will prevail, leading to more and more chipping away at requirements to publish with us. And as that occurs, the public will not have a centralized medium where it can find legal notices akin to its interests, not eroding accessibility but making it more difficult to sift through and find information.
The bill obviously wasn't thought through from an accessibility standpoint. That's a key. Entities required to publish might intentionally or not bury legals on a web site, using non-intuitive links. Recently, residents in Ridgway accused the town council of not notifying the public of council deliberations over the UROD issue. And even though the town noticed the meetings properly, many felt slighted because meeting notices were not in a prominent place, citing the paper as one such place. The handful who complained were all subscribers to this paper.
Government entities should do all they can to be transparent. And moving to a medium without a game plan for intuitive use or one that is widely accessed is nothing more than posting a notice on a bulletin board at the last minute, and simply saying, “We posted it, what more can we do?"
Access is what it's all about. Hickenlooper stated as such, saying "until more certainty exists when full buildout can be achieved and behavior has shifted, we cannot support legislation reducing transparency."
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.