Ann Arbor officials asking voters in November to amend city charter to allow online publication of legal notices
The closure of The Ann Arbor News and the advent of digital technology has Ann Arbor city officials pondering new methods of publishing ordinances adopted by City Council.
But to put them online instead of in print, voters will need to approve two city charter amendments on the November ballot.
If approved by voters, the changes would give the Ann Arbor City Council authority to decide how certain legal notifications are published, including the option of posting ordinances online instead of in a "newspaper of general circulation."
This week, the council firmed up the ballot language for the two questions voters will be asked. Here’s what they say:
City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry said the city had to switch to publishing legal notices in the Washtenaw County Legal News after The Ann Arbor News ceased publication in July. The city's charter currently requires notices of ordinances be published in a newspaper of general circulation within 10 days after enactment.
State law defines a newspaper of general circulation as any publication having been in print for at least one year with paid subscribers. Though AnnArbor.com, which replaced The Ann Arbor News, offers a print product twice a week, it's not publishing legal notices until it has been in print for at least a year.
That's left city officials thinking digital, so they're asking voters for some leeway on the current city charter requirements.
"Basically the charter amendments will allow us to use the city's Web site or other online media for meeting publication notices as opposed to traditional publication methods," Beaudry said.
Nick DeLeeuw, a spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General's Office, said an attorney general opinion dating back to 1981 requires municipalities to publish certain legal notices, but doesn't spell out how. It's the state's opinion that online publication fulfills the spirit and requirements of the law, he said.
"As long as the city publishes them, it doesn't necessarily have to be in a newspaper," DeLeeuw said.
Beaudry said changes to City Council rules, approved by council members Tuesday night, eliminate the city's self-imposed requirement of publishing meeting agendas in a newspaper of general circulation. She estimated it will save about $15,000 per year in the the City Clerk's Office budget to publish agendas on the city's Web site.
Savings from going digital by publishing city ordinances are not yet estimated, city official said. If the charter amendments are adopted, they would take effect on Jan. 1, 2010.
Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.