Traditional newspaper readership has dropped but local governments and other municipal entities must publish public notices in newspapers to fulfill Michigan’s legal notice requirements. For the 12th consecutive year, however, a bill was introduced amending this publication requirement by allowing placement of public notices on government websites instead of newspapers. This could impact compliance with municipal law and other legal requirements.
Proposed notice requirements
Michigan’s cities, villages, counties, townships, and other local bodies had to publish notice of meetings and other local government actions, such as zoning, in newspapers for approximately 150 years. Newspapers have been considered as an independent source of information about local government activities.
Removing newspaper publication and moving notice to local government websites is one of the top five priorities for the Michigan speaker of the house for the remaining 2020 lame duck legislative session. Supporters argue that this will save money. It will also help assure that important information may be accessed digitally.
Many government entities, according to a bill opponent, may not have the technological capacity to meet the online publication requirements. Some county clerks claimed that they lack the ability, time, and resources to post these notices.
During the pandemic, many local governments lacked the ability to hold virtual public meetings. A county was unable to post recent election results. One township website has not posted current meeting agendas since 2014. Another township listed a long-deceased Congressman among its elected officials.
There may be problems with limited connectivity. Michigan is ranked as 30th in the nation for broadband connectivity and rural areas still have problems with internet use.
Certain citizens may also lose access to notices. Low income citizens, for example, may have limited internet access. Senior citizens may still be uncomfortable using the internet. For citizens, it may also be overly time consuming to search each local government website to keep apprised of relevant notices.
Improvements, however, can be made to increase the use of virtual technology. Notices should be distributed digitally in addition to print. Citizens need to have access through computers and mobile devices.
Governments must meet legal requirements on transparency and comply with the state’s open meetings and freedom of information laws, other notice laws and additional statutes. An attorney can help with compliance and defend them during challenges