Overture for legals a win-win for government bodies

From time to time we want to tell you about ways the Free Press is trying to make a positive difference in the lives of our readers and advertisers.

One such area is the publication of legal notices. You may or may not pay much attention to them, but for quite some time, county and city governments and school boards have been required by law to publish notices when laws change, new ordinances are to be put into effect, taxes are delinquent, etc.

Attorneys are required to publish notices about, among other things, estates in probate, or when quiet-title action is required to provide clear title to a property upon its sale.

The spirit of this law is that citizens have a right to be informed about public matters that can affect their lives and their pocketbooks.

Since the publication of these notices is not free, state statutes spell out where they may be published and how much can be charged by the newspaper publishing them.

For many, many years in Marion County, the three existing paid-circulation newspapers in the county have been taking turns publishing the county’s legal notices. The selection of the newspaper has not been done through a bidding process.

Likewise, each first-class city within the county has chosen one of these three newspapers as their “official” newspaper for the purpose of publishing their local legal notices.

On occasion, some county governments have adopted strategies that meet the letter of the law, but may fall short of the spirit of the law.

Sedgwick and Reno counties, for instance, have sometimes run their legal notices in small newspapers in their respective counties rather than the broader circulation dailies.

They may have saved the taxpayers some money, but it can be argued they failed to serve the public interest and every citizen’s right to know.

The Free Press, which is mailed to nearly every home in the county-around 6,000 households in all-is prevented by current state statute from publishing legal notices.

Why? Because the Free Press is a free-circulation newspaper and state statute requires that a qualifying newspaper have paid circulation.

In order to provide a measure of competition for the publication of legal notices in Marion County, we created a separate weekly paid-circulation publication in November 1999 called the Hillsboro Free Press Digest. Now that we have published it for a full year, as required by state statute, the Free Press Digest now qualifies for publishing legal notices like any other paid-circulation newspaper.

We plan to ask the governing bodies of the county for the opportunity to bid for the publication of legal notices in the Free Press Digest.

As part of our offer, we will print those same legal notices in the Hillsboro Free Press without charge.

This will accomplish two positive objectives:

1. We will save taxpayer money. Through the Free Press Digest, we propose to make publishing legal notices part of the competitive bidding process-just like everything else our city and county governments buy.

Potentially, thousands of dollars can be saved for county and city governments-and the taxpayers who provide the money to run them.

Charges for legals are currently based upon the highest rate that is charged for commercial customers in their classified section, which is typically higher than the rates in other sections of the newspaper.

And, according to records obtained from the county courthouse, legal notices rates in two out of three Marion County newspapers just went up in October of this year.

The current pricing system goes back to the days of hot lead and tedious typesetting on linotype machines, which made proofreading and fixing errors more costly.

Most of the notices that run in newspapers are written on computer by the county or city. That information can easily be translated to the newspaper’s computer systems-for additional savings.

2. We can better fulfill the spirit of the law. By running the legal notices without charge in the Free Press, county residents will have unprecedented access to the information they need.

Alexander Meiklejohn, a leading philosopher and educator from our nation’s past, argued forcefully for freedom of expression as it relates to governance:

“Far more essential (than truth), if men are to be their own rulers, is the demand that whatever truth may become available shall be placed at the disposal of all the citizens of the community. The First Amendment is not, primarily, a device for the winning of new truth, though that is very important. It is a device for the sharing of whatever truth has been won. Its purpose is to give every voting member of the body politic the fullest possible participation in the understanding of those problems with which the citizens of a self-governing society must deal.”

So this is our plan. We think it will make a positive difference for residents of Marion County. We hope you agree.

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