New state bills on public notices entice most Ann Arbor-area officials
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."
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 AnnArbor.com.
“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 AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.