Cumberland Times-News

January 22, 2013

Bad idea

Newspapers best way to access legal notices


Cumberland Times-News

— Imagine this scenario: A portion of your neighborhood has been zoned from residential to commercial and you knew nothing about it. Or another one: Your local government floated a multi-million bond bill that you would have opposed, had you known about it.

Those are just a couple of examples of what could happen if local governmental bodies in Maryland are no longer required to have legal notices published in newspapers.

For several years there has been talk or proposals in Annapolis to have legal notices placed online, rather than published in local newspapers.

The idea is a bad one and will make it more difficult for constituents to keep tabs on what their local government is planning.

Requiring municipal and county governments and public school systems to place printed public notices lets constituents know about such things as budgets, charter changes, zoning meetings, permit requests, unclaimed property, jobs that are available for bidding and a host of other government issues.

Despite the increased use of the Internet, there are still many people who do not have — or want — computers. For them, going to a government site to read public notices is not an option. There also is the challenge of easily finding a website — or the correct website — and then being able to locate a public notice.

Newspapers have long been considered the best outlets for public notices because of their easy and wide accessibility and the fact that they are relatively inexpensive and have a documented list of subscribers. Readers know public notices appear daily in the classified ad section and surveys show public notice readership is consistently high.

The University of Southern California Annaneberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy notes that public notices are one of the few regular and official communication channels that exist between government and citizens. Public notice laws additionally regulate the way in which government communicates with citizens.

The Maryland Municipal League is proposing legislation in Annapolis this year to do away with the legal notice publication. The group sees the elimination as a way of saving money.

But the savings would come at a dear price. It is in the public’s best interest to have easy access to public notices. Newspapers provide that easy access — and the newspaper is where the public notices should remain.