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A bill of goods

by YES! Weekly staff

Word reached YES! Weekly through a well-connected tipster that there might be some good news coming our way via the NC General Assembly.

The item concerned public notices — those pieces of information that municipalities are compelled by law to post in newspapers: tax liens, foreclosures, rezonings and the like.

For decades, state law dictated that cities and counties must place these notices in paid-circulation newspapers, paying the standard rate. It’s been a huge boon to the industry — or, rather, to some players in the industry, most notably corporate-owned, bigcity dailies with a few bones thrown to paid-circ papers in smaller’  towns and rural counties.

Notice, though, that free weeklies like this one get shut out of the deal, no matter how large our circulation, no matter how dense our saturation in our respective communities.

We figured the good news would be that we would finally be eligible for city notices, giving us a shot at the hundreds of thousands of dollars put in play by cities like Greens- boro and Winston-Salem, not to mention the monies expended by Forsyth and Guilford counties.

WHILETHE BILL DOES MAKE MENTION OF WEEKLY NEWSPAPERS LIKE OURS — BARELY —IT DOES ISEXACTLY WHAT IT PURPORTS TO DO: GIVE CITIES AND COUNTIES THE OPPORTUNITY TOAVOID PUTTING PUBLIC NOTICES IN NEWSPAPERS ALTOGETHER.

Imagine our surprise when we got a gander at the text of SB 186, co-sponsored by our new NC Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) The working title of the bill says it all: “An Act to Allow Governing Boards of Counties and Cities to Give Electronic Notice.”

And while the bill does make mention of weekly newspapers like ours — barely — what it really does is exactly what it purports to do: Give cities and counties the opportunity to avoid putting public notices in newspapers altogether.

And that’s completely unacceptable. The reason public notices were put in newspapers in the first place is so that people can see them — all people, and not just a select group of government watchers. It’s why foreclosures get posted on a bulletin board at city hall, and also get put in the paper.

There’s another concern as well: Public notices often contain information — foreclosures, zoning changes and the like — that savvy investors could use to make money, particularly if the information is not widely disseminated. Not that city staff would deliberately leave notices like this out of a city-run website, but the appearance of and opportunity for impropriety can be just as damaging as actual impropriety, and should be avoided at all costs. Using a newspaper as a neutral third party eliminates these concerns.

That being said, there is one part of the bill that shows promise.

Section 1(b) adds weekly newspapers like our as acceptable venues for publication of public notices, an additional option after the notices have been published to the city site.

It’s a big step, stripping the dailies of the monopolies they’ve held on this revenue stream for decades, but in this context it is almost meaningless.

But with a little tweaking — pull that city website nonsense and open the business to the entire marketplace — SB 186 could become one damn fine law.

YES! Weekly chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration .

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