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County board decides: Notices should stay in paper

With a 2-3 vote on Tuesday, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners did not have support for a resolution that would limit where the county is required to post its public notices.

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The resolution supports proposed legislation that would allow counties to publish certain public notices on their websites instead of, or in addition to, publishing them in an official newspaper.

The resolution was supplied by the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC), a statewide organization that “works closely with the legislative and administrative branches of government in seeing that legislation and policies favorable to counties are enacted,” according to its website.

Currently, counties are required by state law to publish public notices – like meeting minutes – in a designated official newspaper of the county.

The Echo Press is the officially designated newspaper of Douglas County.

Echo Press publisher Jody Hanson told the county board Tuesday, “Public notices and the purpose of publicizing them is so that citizens can be made aware of everything that our county government is doing and that they are well-informed citizens and be active participants.”

The resolution noted: “…counties should have the authority to determine the best and most efficient method of communicating information to citizens based on citizen expectations…utilizing county websites to publish public notices would eliminate the time and costly burden of publishing in newspapers…the ability of county websites to provide citizens with up-to-date, detailed information exceeds that of print media.”

In 2012, Douglas County spent approximately $34,600 printing legal notices and $41,400 in 2013, not including costs related to election notices.

Hanson noted that the Minnesota Newspaper Association supported legislation 10 years ago mandating all newspapers that print notices in the print edition also place those notices on their website at no additional cost.

She added, “Newspapers and newspaper websites are where the public has always gone to get news about their government, not government websites.”

Hanson noted that monthly, has more than 65,000 unique visitors to the site.

Commissioners Bev Bales and Jerry Johnson voted to support the resolution; commissioners Jim Stratton, Charlie Meyer and Dan Olson opposed it.

Bales said, “We always hear from the public, ‘Where can you save any dollars?’ and I think that was, of course, one of the reasons it was forwarded through AMC.”

Olson said, “My personal feeling is that we should never eliminate the newspaper from this. There are a lot of folks who aren’t hooked into the web and won’t be.”

Meyer said, “I think we should use all media available to share information. I do believe everyone has access [to the Internet] – the county library, they have access, and it’s free. And the newspaper is at the library. But I don’t think we should limit it, ever.”

After the vote failed to support the resolution, Olson said, “I wouldn’t mind having this resolution brought back again…if we strike that one sentence – ‘Whereas, utilizing county websites to publish public notices would eliminate the time and costly burden of publishing in newspapers’…If that one sentence is struck, I could more easily support it.”

After the vote, Hanson said, “I am very proud of our commissioners for making the decision to defeat support of that resolution, in favor of continuing to inform our residents through the newspaper.”

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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