You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 6 a.m.

New state bills on public notices entice most Ann Arbor-area officials

By Ronald Ahrens

Budget-conscious Washtenaw County officials expressed interest in legislation introduced this week in the Michigan House of Representatives that would let municipal governments post public notices online instead of printing them in newspapers.

Sponsors say the package of six bills would amend a variety of existing statutes and help cities and townships save money.

The proposed legislation is sponsored by Rep. Doug Geiss, D-Taylor, and four other lawmakers.

“From our perspective, this is something that should move quickly,” said Samantha Harkins, legislative associate for the Michigan Municipal League, which helped to conceive the bills. “We’re hoping it moves sooner rather than later."


Proposed legislation would allow municipalities to publish notices online.

The amendments would be made to such statutes as the Home Rule City Act and the Charter Township Act, which require the advance notices for meetings and hearings.

If passed, the legislation would require notices to be published in the office of the city or township clerk and on a municipal website, a news organization’s site or a public access channel.

“We’re certainly not anti-newspaper,” Harkins said. “But first of all, we think we need to look out for the taxpayers.”

She said it’s likely “the majority of people who would be looking for notices would be on the Web.”

When told about the pending bills, Ypsilanti City Clerk Frances McMullan said, “Oh, that’s wonderful.”

The City of Ypsilanti publishes its notices in the Ypsilanti Courier and spent $18,839 in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Citing the number of ordinances taken up during the current year, McMullan said it appears likely the budget allowance of $20,000 will be exceeded.

“It would be extra-great if we could do it on our own website,” she said.

Last November, Ann Arbor voters approved a charter amendment that allows publication of most notices on the city’s website. Zoning-related notices still must appear in a newspaper. The city has been publishing those notices in the Washtenaw County Legal News.

Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry was not available Friday to give an estimate of expenditures for notices.

The Legal News didn’t return calls Friday about the impact the legislation would have on its business.

Ann Arbor Public Schools spokeswoman Liz Margolis said the district isn’t required to post notices for board meetings but must do so for budget-related public hearings. Those have been appearing in the Legal News, she said.

The legislation “would make it much more convenient and it would definitely be a bill that would bring the expectations more up to the current-day technology,” she said.

Scio Township Clerk Nancy Hedberg welcomed the legislation’s introduction.

“All of us at the township and city levels are looking at ways to save money, and the fact is that property taxes are decreasing and newspapers are dropping like flies,” she said. “Things have changed a whole lot from 150 years ago.”

She said that some smaller townships might be hampered by the lack of server capacity to support the additional information on their websites. And a recent meeting of clerks from across Michigan made her aware that many smaller townships don’t even have e-mail addresses or websites.

Pittsfield Township Clerk Alan Israel raised the only contrary note in an informal survey by

“Not all people have access to the Internet, and saving money should not be the primary reason we decide how to post public information,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The emphasis should be on transparency in how information is communicated to residents, not in eliminating people’s right to know and access to information.”

Ronald Ahrens is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.


Blue Eyes

Mon, Feb 22, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

I'm tech savy, own a computer, work for government and think posting only on the web is a bad idea.....I also have dial-up! There are plenty of us who live our personal lives away from the computer. I'm lucky if I catch the obits early enough to make it to funerals.

State Rep. Doug Geiss

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

Brad, your comments sound like a copy and paste from the Michigan Publishers Association. Are you affiliated with them or any other newspaper in Michigan? It seems strange that you would have that data just lying around. Since you do seem to have data, how many of those 1/3 subscribe to a newspaper. Also, if the suggested changes are made (email and physical mail registry), would your stance change?

State Rep. Doug Geiss

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 4:25 p.m.

That should be, "Thanks to all for your comments." Darn iPhones!;-)


Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 4:21 p.m.

Pew Foundation study showed that very few people use government websites, most individuals look to local newspapers for this sort of information. Additionally, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce just reported that 1/3 of the population do not use the internet in any manner whatsoever. The amounts saved are minimal relative to the municipal budget in total. Dues paid to Mich. Municipal League along with travel & entertainment may be much more than publication costs. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

State Rep. Doug Geiss

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

Thanks to all for you comments. I like the idea of an e-mail registry for constituents to receive information electronically. I am also concerned about those without e-mail or computers. Would a hard copy mail registry suffice to alay fears raised here? I believe the number signing up for a mailed copy would be limited, thus still saving communities money compared to printing in newspapers. In the end, the legislation is simply an option for local governments, not a dictate from Lansing. If they want to continue to publish in newspapers, a community could do so under the bills introduced this week. Sincerely, State Rep. Doug Geiss

Basic Bob

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 2:10 p.m.

Pittsfield posts notices in the Ypsilanti Courier in order to meet the legal requirement, but I suspect more residents have home Internet access than read the Courier. If you are one of the people with neither, you can go to the public library which has both.


Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 2:03 p.m.

Such irony. The internet is one primary reason that newspapers are going out of business. Many advertisers switched from newspapers to web sites. It is not improbable that a community could have no newspapers, thus there needs to be some way to post notices. But I agree, this is prohibitive to people who cannot afford a computer or home internet access. One thing I would like to see is the ability of constituents to add their email address to a mass mail list of a local govt that would keep citizens notified of meetings, events, votes on issues, etc in addition to having to visit a website and search. A brief synopsis would be a great way to keep up on local issues and developments. For those of you interested in a great account of how the internet has greatly influenced unemployment and the demise of traditional institutions like newspapers, get a copy of this book at your library or local bookstore. This is not a promotion just a source: The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen Easy to read and good account of how the internet has changed our society in many different ways with many unintended consequences.


Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.

Unless the State is planning to purchase computers and provide internet access to all citizens, this will be discriminatory against low-income people, or those who aren't tech-savvy (including many folks over the age of 45, like my parents). Surely we can do a little better than this. Even for those who can afford it, and are decent at getting around on the web, simply posting something on a website does not call attention to it.


Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 11:50 a.m.

regarding govt changing content on the web after the fact: The wayback machine ( archives much older content from the web. So, you could see what the document looked like last week. You could always save your own copies if you were truly paranoid and trusted no one.

C.C. Ingersoll

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 10:06 a.m.

There's one important distinction between posting notices in the newspaper and on-line. On-line content can be changed at will, especially later if need be. When they have to post it to actual physical paper and distribute it to thousands of people there is no way later to edit a "public notice" to suit the government's own circumstance. Think I'm paranoid? Do a little Googling about the EPA's old library buildings - and how they were converted to on-line documents that 'everyone' could read...

Basic Bob

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 9:17 a.m.

Alan Israel is out of touch. The clerk's office can't keep their board minutes updated on the website without being reminded. But they have slick graphics now and smiling pictures of Mandy Grewal. The anti-Walmart board has done nothing to impress.

A Pretty Ann Arbor

Sat, Feb 20, 2010 : 7:03 a.m.

Can we find out the links to the proposed legislation? Note the poll so far is that we don't support this...but that may change it is only 7:00AM on Saturday - 71% oppose