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Newspapers Vs. Municipalities

by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 29, 2013 12:59pm
(7) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Local Politics, Media Matters, State Capitol

Christine Stuart photo

Legal notice in a 2004 Journal Inquirer

Town governments are hoping a renewed focus on municipal mandate relief will see the passage of long-sought changes to expensive legal notice publishing requirements.

For years, towns have pushed to change the state law requiring them to post legal notices in local daily newspapers, but the legislation has always failed to pass the General Assembly. Current law requires towns to advertise in their local newspaper to advise residents of things like town meetings, referenda, and ordinance changes.

This year, the state’s municipal lobby has been outspoken in opposing some of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed changes to municipal funding formulas. Because of those proposals, legislation that relieves towns of the legal notice requirement may have legs.

Jim Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said towns are hopeful that strong support for municipal mandate relief among lawmakers will help change publishing requirements this year and give towns the ability to reduce the amount to space they must buy in newspapers to post legal notices.

“With the backdrop of the governor’s budget proposal, I think people know how tough things are for municipalities,” he said.

This year, lawmakers seem supportive of legislation giving towns the ability to publish abbreviated notices in newspapers with directions for residents to follow up online for further information. Bills to that effect have passed out of two legislative committees with strong support on both sides of the aisle.

But efforts to shift legal notices online faces opposition from the state’s daily newspapers, who publish the notices for a fee, which provides them with a significant revenue stream.

Chris VanDeHoef, executive director of the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, said he understands that towns are looking for places to trim their budgets. But he said the publication of legal notices is a matter of open government and transparency.

With a truncated advertisement appearing in print, towns would likely shift the majority of each public notice onto their websites. And whereas a notice becomes a matter of public record once it is printed in a newspaper, VanDeHoef said entries on government websites are open to tampering, alteration, or even publication after the legal deadline.

“The [town’s] ability to change something is never-ending,” he said. “We understand that towns and cities need to find every dollar they can, but you simply can’t use open government as a place to cut.”

On Monday, the newspaper association will begin running full-page advertisements titled “This is no April Fool’s joke,” opposing the legislation in all 16 of the state’s daily newspapers. VanDeHoef said they will continue running different versions of the ad three times a week until May.

“The simple fact is, not everyone in Connecticut has access to the Internet. People are curious about what it is their government is doing and spending money on. Why are we making it harder for them to get that information?” he said.

The argument has been successful in the past. In 2011, the General Administration and Elections effectively killed similar legislation over concerns about universal Internet access. But GAE, the legislature’s open government committee, is one of the panels which have approved the legislation this year. This time it passed with unanimous support.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, called the abbreviated notices in newspapers a “fair balance” between open information and reducing costs to towns. The committee’s co-chairman Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, agreed.

“I think we’ve all heard from a lot from the towns about trying to reduce some of the mandates that are costly to them. I would say this this is one small step in the right direction,” he said.

Finley called the committee’s endorsement of the bill “a good seal of approval that this is not an anti-transparency proposal.” He said there has been a shift in where people are looking to stay informed.

“The way of the world is moving is toward people getting their information online,” he said.

Finely said another shift this year is an openness to the proposal on the part of legislative leadership.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Wednesday that he is open to looking at the legislation and has instructed his municipal efficiency commission to explore the issue as well.

Sharkey said he was sympathetic to the concerns of local newspapers, but said making sure the state’s residents stay informed in the most cost-efficient way possible trumps those concerns.

“We have to make sure we’re not burdening taxpayers with unnecessary costs,” he said. “There’s no question [newspapers] generate revenue from it, but I have to put the interests of taxpayers and the need to provide adequate notice ahead of revenue to newspapers.”

Sharkey said that if towns feel they can provide adequate notice to residents in cheaper ways, he is open to considering them. But he said it’s important it does not come at the expense of an informed public.

He said he wanted to make sure the abbreviated notices still include enough information that residents are kept up-to-date on their municipal governments.

“If you’re simply saying ‘There’s going to be a hearing on Tuesday, go to this website and see what it’s about,’ I’m not sure that’s adequate information,” he said.

In addition to the General Administration and Elections Committee, the legislation has been approved by the Planning and Development Committee, which held a public hearing on the issue in February.

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(7) Comments

posted by: Joe Eversole | March 29, 2013  2:03pm

To oppose this on the grounds that not everyone has access to the internet is ludicrous. Not everyone has access to the daily newspaper either.

posted by: Aldon_Hynes | March 29, 2013  2:04pm


The circulation of Connecticut Daily Newspapers that I’ve seen is about 620,000.

According to an article in the Courant the Census bureau says “83 percent of individuals in Connecticut live in a household with access to the web, either at home, at work or some other location”.  With 1.36 million households in Connecticut, that works out to be about 1.3 million households with access to the Internet, or nearly twice as many as households as the circulation of the Connecticut daily papers.

If we are really focused on making it easier for the most people to get information about their government online, maybe we should do away with newspaper notices altogether.

posted by: Historian | March 29, 2013  6:55pm

Wrong!  Let us step back and understand that we are talking about one important issue - Public Notice. 
  Until recently - for whatever reasons - newspapers were the major source of information on the legal details of public life because they were distributed daily or “regularly”. In addition to posting these public notices outside the town clerk’s office.
  This system does not work anymore. The original deal was made when most residents subscribed or purchased a paper daily or weekly. Today there are no more home delivery boxes in front of homes and most the “newspapers” have degraded their news coverage to a point where most will not pay for one. 
  There are two other means available - 1. the internet and town websites and outdoor town electronic billboards at critical intersections. The newsprint conglomerates think they still deserve this governmental subsidy - they don’t - having failed to provide accurate, balanced news coverage written by reporters who have actually grown to know the communities they write about. Newspapers are no longer a significant part of the information chain.

posted by: Hebee | March 29, 2013  7:42pm

The Hartford Courant is for sale and having trouble finding a buyer. Print news is on life support and now is the time to pull the plug on mandated public financial support. Newspapers and magazines are not profitable in the 21st Century as most folks get their news from a plethora of sources that were not available 20 years ago. Advertisers have found other, more successful ways to get their message out to their customers. My tax dollars shouldn’t pay to keep the Courant and others alive so they can preach their own version of yesterday’s events. These Newspapers are just another parasite looking to feed off the public trough.

posted by: dano860 | March 29, 2013  10:35pm

The placements are the equivalent to the junk mail that is keeping the Post Office snorkeling, they sure as heck aren’t above water.
People that want to know what is going on in their Town search out his information. They sign up at the Town Hall for ‘Public Notice’ and receive emails of meetings etc.
At times we have placed notice of meetings and decisions of our Wetlands Agency and had to have the papers run corrections or a retraction in one case.
I love that Mr. Sharkey is so concerned about the costs to the taxpayer…“We have to make sure we’re not burdening taxpayers with unnecessary costs,” he said. “There’s no question [newspapers] generate revenue from it, but I have to put the interests of taxpayers and the need to provide adequate notice ahead of revenue to newspapers.”(from above).
If a Town has a $100M budget 70% of that will go to education, and roughly 25% goes to the general government, the 5% goes to the miscellaneous. Out of the 25% they may spend $75K on notifications in the paper etc.  Lets see $75K is real money but it won’t make or break a Town.
This isn’t about saving the Town’s a buck, it’s about life support for the print people.
Time to diversify and get something else into their bag O tricks!
“Pull the plug”.

posted by: Lawrence | March 30, 2013  7:51am

This is pure B.S.:

“Chris VanDeHoef, executive director of the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, said he understands that towns are looking for places to trim their budgets. But he said the publication of legal notices is a matter of open government and transparency.”

Yes, Chris, all CT citizens get their open government and transparency information from the LEGAL ADS in the back of your newspapers.

The print media are using their print ability to scare citizens with BS arguments in order to save some small revenue stream for their dying industry.

Better to focus on the truth, Chris—you want all the money you can lay your hands on, and you will tell the public you are “serving” and “protecting” them with these legal ads.

No one believes it. I hope this state change passes with the speed of light.

posted by: Noteworthy | April 1, 2013  9:45am

Newspapers are just like the unions - despite changing times, they want to keep the gravy train rolling, full and overflowing with useless and needless legal notices at taxpayer and resident expense. No wonder they collectively and individually support the incumbents. They’re afraid the slop pail will turn up empty.