Editor’s note: The following guest opinion was written by Paul J. Hedbreder of the Traverse City Record-Eagle and current Michigan Press Association Board of Directors President.
For over a decade, lobbyists for local governments including Michigan Townships, Michigan Counties and the Michigan Municipal League have been on a mission to pull public notices out of newspapers and put them on municipal websites which, at best are not heavily used, but often are shoddy or don’t exist.
The newspapers of Michigan understand the need for modernization in methods to provide notices of government activity to citizens. That is why we have worked with members of the legislature to expand access to information on what government bodies are doing by requiring these materials be published on the newspaper’s website—in front of any paywalls—and will additionally be uploaded on a statewide website where they are accessible to the general public free of charge.
The key part of this plan is that notices that impact your taxes, property and other community use of your taxpayer dollars are not hidden on an obscure government website. They will remain in an independent venue that preserves due process.
The Michigan Senate unanimously passed the Newspaper Modernization bills, SB 258 and SB 259 sponsored by Senator Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) and Senator Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington) a few months ago. Recently, the Michigan House passed the bills on to the Governor who signed the bills on Thursday, May 12. We appreciate her support of expanding access to information for our citizens.
Sadly, the local government lobbyists in Lansing continue to attempt to take control of these important notices. Representative Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) recently introduced HB 6062. This bill would allow local governments to post notices on their website and provide a hard copy in their office. This is a fox watching the henhouse scenario. These paid lobbying organizations in Lansing are not in tune with many of the local clerks they represent in our townships and counties who are good stewards for their citizens.
The newspaper modernization bills will protect you—the citizens of Michigan—by keeping notices in an independent source no matter how you read your newspaper…on your phone, laptop, tablet or in print. We feel this is the best way to make sure Michiganders can monitor government actions.