LETTER TO EDITOR: Guilford County Legal Notices Project
I am FIRMLY OPPOSED to the use of Electronic Notices in Gilford County that is now being discussed by the Gilford County Board of Commissioners.
I have reviewed Chapter 17: Electronic Notices; the 2017 Advertising Expenses; and the Legal Notices Project information that the County provided to you. I have a number of observations that I ask you to consider as you individually and collectively discuss and vote on this project.
The Advertising Expenses, as itemized by the County, identify monies spent on newspaper legal notices and includes:
- The Clerk to the Board spent $4,400. The largest amount was for Sealed Bids ($1,500) and represents more than 34% of that total.
- As County Commissioners you spent $3,400 on legal notices. The largest amount was $2,300 for Upset Bid (whatever that is). This represents more than 67% of that total.
- Election Legal Notices spent $5,000 including Alternate Polling Sites ($2,700) and Early Voting Schedules ($1,600). These two categories represent 87% of the Election Legal Notice monies.
- Planning Board notices cost $4,300. This is 90% of the money spent for Public Hearings by the Planning Board.
- Legal Notices for Tax Liens cost $4,300 which represents 93% of monies spent for Tax notices.
In 2017, the total money spent on newspaper legal notices was $71,000 that were published in 17 Guilford County and area newspapers.
The Guilford County Legal Notices Project has three phases. The glowing phrase ‘Benefits Achieved’ is highlighted as each phase is explained. However NONE of the phases identify any pitfalls, drawbacks or areas of concerns. It seems that to the County, there is no downside to the use of Electronic Notices. That is except for the need to hire a part-time IT person at a salary of $35,000 plus benefits. In other words, it will cost the county $42,000 ($35,000 plus 20% tax, pension and benefit costs) to save $70,000. That means the net savings is only $28,000 and that assumes that the wages, pension, taxes and benefit costs of the part time IT person never change. Even if all things are equal, that is a monthly savings of only $2,300 a month.
Since the County has identified ‘Benefits Achieved’, let’s examine ‘Benefits Lost’ if the County adopts Electronic Notices and saves $2,300 a month?
- Transparency with the voters and taxpayers. It will now be easy and acceptable to ‘hide’ actions of the Clerk to the Board, the Board itself as it seeks bids for various County projects, voters during election years, interested citizens in the Planning Board, potential bidders for Tax Liens and anyone interested the actions taken by and when money is spent by the County. While ‘hiding’ is not the goal of the project, it is precisely what will happen.
- From a perception standpoint, do you really want citizens and taxpayers to think you are hiding from them? What does it say to potential new homeowners and businesses that might want to move to Guilford County? Do you want newspapers, TV and radio stations and other media outlets to report on controversial issues and how citizens and taxpayers were not informed of your deliberations or the actions you are about to take? Does the uproar about renaming the Piedmont-Triad International Airport to the Central North Carolina International Airport ring a bell? How about your request for financial and project information regarding the High Point Baseball/Multi-Use/Catalyst Project? City of High Point taxpayers were never given a chance to vote on the proposal and project. They were told it was a $35 million project when in fact it is really going to cost $55 million dollars. Now you know how voters and taxpayers feel when they are not given the opportunity to ask questions or be involved in the decision making process. You were right not to give High Point any money. I hope to stick with that decision and don’t give them a penny. As with the Electronic Legal Notice Project, the goal of these actions may be worthy, but the facts and consequences may be much different.
- What are you going to do when it comes to elections? Will you post notices only on line and hope people check the County website to find information about where to vote? Will you post notices in newspapers as well? If you do use newspapers for these notices, how much money are you really going to save? If some voters don’t have computers or have access to them, are you denying them the right to vote? Can they or would they sue the County for denying them the right to vote. I bet that only one law suit would cost more than the monthly savings of $2,300.
- Have you considered if there are any legal ramifications of using the only Electronic Notices? Have you identified what they might be? Have you asked for any negative effects of the project? Remember the only law that always works is the law of unintended consequences.
- If this is such a good deal, why didn’t the State Legislature make it available to all counties? In fact, why did they and the Governor reject this idea for the entire state? Why only Guilford County? How about other states and counties? Have they tried this type of legal notification system? How did it work? Does anyone know which other states and counties that have tried this? Did anyone ask? If so, what did they discover? Did they share that information with the Board?
- Has anyone asked the County or considered an alternative to using only Electronic Notices? Could you post all notices on-line and post some of them in newspapers as well? How would you determine which category of notices could be put on the County website and not in newspapers? Which categories of notices should be on-line AND in the newspaper? Does it really have to be an all or nothing approach to newspapers and on-line notifications? Has anyone identified the expenses of a duel (on-line and newspaper) method of posting legal notices?
- Why is there a rush to consider this now? Can it wait a while so the County and you gather more facts and consider other options and the ramifications of your decision? Is the County required to make a decision now? If so, vote NO. Don’t be rushed into a bad decision.
- What will you do with the $2,300 a month in savings? Will you simply spend the money on something else or will you save it? If you spend it, what is the point? If you don’t save any money and make it more difficult for voters and taxpayers to know what you are doing, is it really worth it? Do you think voters and taxpayers will forget that you think so little of their opinion that you made a decision to exclude them? I know I won’t. I am pretty sure other voters and taxpayers won’t be forget either.