Editorial: Don’t restrict legal ads to the web – Part II
Most reasonable people would agree that in order to publish something, it is necessary to adhere to one of the more common definitions of the verb: i.e., “to make generally known.”
In our view, posting legal notices on a rarely visited website in a place where only 15 percent of the households have Internet access doesn’t rise to that standard.
Yet that is what officials in the towns of Granby, Grand Lake and Kremmling are asking voters to allow them to do rather than publishing such notices in a newspaper where about 7,000 sets of eyes currently view the notices each week (and where they are also posted – gratis – online).
If voters approve these initiatives, the only thing that would actually be published in a general circulation newspaper would be the “title” of the legal notices. Here are a couple recent examples:
• “An ordinance amending the Town of Grand Lake Municipal Codes by amending Section 1 of Article 2 of Chapter 6 Sign Code.”
• “Town of Kremmling Ordinance No. 566, an ordinance amending Chapters 3.12, 13.04 and 13.12 of the Kremmling Municipal Code regarding water service fees.”
Not exactly illuminating, are they? If these measures pass, the actual text of such ordinances – and a host of other legal notices, like requests for proposals and town disbursements – would be available only on the town websites.
Moreover, there are no mandates about when the notices must be posted on those websites, how prominently they must be posted, or how long they must stay on the sites.
As well-intentioned as current officials in these towns might be, less scrupulous officials could easily take advantage of this absence of standards by publishing misleading or arcane titles.
Nor is there anything to prevent retroactive digital manipulation of the official record or any explicit mechanism for making needed corrections to legals after they have been posted to the web.
In contrast, since the first legal notice was published in The Oxford Gazette in 1665, those notices have contained the entire legal advertisement and have been impossible to alter retroactively.
Print offers the virtue of instant portability as well, and it can be marked up for simple future reference by multiple parties with nothing more high-tech than a highlighter.
Legal notices through the centuries have also been widely available to anyone who can read a newspaper without the need for a costly computer or a trip to the library to use a public machine. Then again, many citizens who grace these offices proudly proclaim they don’t know how to use a computer and don’t intend to learn.
What of them? Will they be forced to make a trip to town hall or elsewhere to become informed about what their government is up to?
It’s enough to beg the question: Whose interests are really being served by these measures?
As we stated in Part I of this editorial, those who wish to stay abreast of legal advertising will have to visit multiple websites if voters approve these measures. If this trend were extended to its logical conclusion – namely, if the more than 80 political subdivisions in Grand County were permitted to take this route – it would become a taxing chore indeed to remain a well-informed citizen.
As it stands, taxpayers merely need to pick up a Sky-Hi Daily News or Middle Park Times at one of the 257 distribution points countywide to read the legal notices from ALL local governments.
Altering this longstanding, proven arrangement carries numerous risks and unintended consequences that far outweigh any small financial savings which might accrue from the proposed ballot measures.
The potential costs associated with a less-informed citizenry are simply too high. We strongly urge a “no” vote on all these measures.
‰ This is the second part of an editorial that began in the Wednesday, March 24, edition of the Sky-Hi Daily News.
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