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Sharkey Gives Municipalities A Boost By Supporting Legal Notices Bill

by | Feb 26, 2014 6:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Town News, Legal

Christine Stuart File Photo Municipal governments are trying again to reduce the amount of information towns must pay to print in newspapers, this year with the support of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.

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.

In the months leading up to this session, Sharkey backed recommendations crafted by legislative group he commissioned to encourage regional cooperation and reduce burdens on towns. The group recommended passing the changes towns have requested to their requirements to publish the notices.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is asking the state to allow towns to push summaries of the traditional notices with instructions for how to obtain the full document on the town’s website. The idea is to reduce the amount of newspaper space towns must purchase, while preserving the notification for newspaper readers.

“It seems like a reasonable compromise,” Sharkey said Friday. “Without imposing a huge cost on cities and towns.”

During a public hearing last week Leo Paul, first selectman of Litchfield, told lawmakers that his town, a small municipality with about 8,500 residents, has had to budget around $16,000 a year for newspaper notification in each of the last two years. He called it “a rather costly venture.”

“Local governments spend millions of dollars every year publishing lengthy documents in their entirety in local publications. In the 21st Century, the quickest, most transparent and cost effective way to get information to the most amount of residents is via the internet,” Paul said.

Sharkey said he believes it is critical that Connecticut residents are kept informed of what’s happening in their local governments, but said the public is looking increasingly toward the internet for updates.

“The way the public gets information on what’s going on in the community is changing,” he said.

Although the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association acknowledges the public notices are a significant revenue stream for the state’s financially struggling newspapers, the group has framed the debate over the years in terms of government transparency.

Chris VanDeHoef, the group’s executive director, argued against the bill in written testimony presented to the Government Administration and Elections Committee last week.

“Our society is founded on the premise that the public has access to its government and what that government is engaged in,” he said. “....We feel that public notices provide this information in an unadulterated and verified manner. A manner that the internet can not guarantee.” 

During last year’s legislative session, daily newspapers throughout the state ran a series of full-page advertisements likening the proposal to an April Fool’s joke.

However, Sharkey said the current proposal preserves public access to documents without eliminating the notifications from the pages of newspapers altogether.

“If the issue is not about revenue to newspapers and is about maintaining the public’s right to know, I think the M.O.R.E. [Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies] commission recommendation accomplishes the latter,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the House speaker’s support will be enough to push the perennial issue over the legislative finish line during this year’s session. A spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams said supporters of the proposal will need to prove that it will not impact the ability of the public to easily obtain important information. He also said Williams has yet to discuss the issue with other Senate Democrats.

On Friday, Sharkey said he had not polled support for the proposal in his chamber either.

“I don’t know for sure if we’ll have the votes to get something done this year. If there’s not enough support we’ll maybe wait and try again next year,” he said.

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: PaulBass | February 26, 2014  9:43am

Here’s a different idea: Make it clear in the law that towns can put legal notices in online papers, rather than print papers. Then they can publish the entire notice. But not pay for all the extra newsprint and ink. The legacy media’s efforts to preserve a monopoly on legal notices—to receive inflated prices for a service that doesn’t benefit the public anymore, given the less expensive, more effective alternatives—are the kind of self-interested, greedy maneuvers they usually editorialize against.

posted by: dano860 | February 26, 2014  10:23am

Maybe the newspapers can offer an annual contract, with substantial savings, to a town versus the pay by the inch or submission method they presently use.
Does a central web site that carries all towns notifications exist?
Who does these notices really serve? Lawyers, business’s looking for contracts or just the general public? If you have an interest in these items you will search them out.
Towns need to save in any manner they can.

posted by: Historian | February 26, 2014  11:43am

Good - the small print municipal ads are virtually useless today. Note the almost total lack of newspaper boxes in front of home anymore and lack newspapers in stores or in street sales boxes. The strange factor is the failure of the newspaper web sites to publish these notices on their web sites as news.

posted by: Christine Stuart | February 26, 2014  12:29pm

Christine Stuart

I think they don’t publish them online because then the scam would be up—there’d be no excuse for charging way more money than they need to, and their corporate welfare benefits would expire.

posted by: Christine Stuart | February 26, 2014  12:56pm

Christine Stuart

The previous comment that looks like it was from me was actually posted by Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent, but I happen to agree.


posted by: DrHunterSThompson | February 26, 2014  2:33pm

Well, they are online. Check any online version of a traditional newspaper. The costs are out of line though, that’s the issue. They should bring the sides together and negotiate reasonable fees.

No one is going to look at online only rags. At least not for a number of years. The only people that read online only news blogs, reports, what ever you call them ( certainly not “papers”) are idiots like me with nothing better to do but sit sequestered in my den with my coffee and in my boxers.



posted by: bgenerous | February 26, 2014  4:07pm

Some town websites are pretty lame. Searching on myPublicNotices.com is useful and convenient when I cannot find certain information on a town’s website.

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