County Board opposes AMC proposed legislation

Legislation would allow counties to publish legal notices on websites—

The Chisago County Board of Commissioners made it clear Feb. 5 that it does not support the Association of Minnesota Counties in its pursuit of legislation that would allow counties to publish official legal notices on websites, rather than in newspapers.The board voted unanimously to oppose AMC’s effort.

Before the vote, Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt explained to the board that the legislation AMC is pursing, if approved by the Legislature and governor, would allow counties to publish notices only on their websites or in addition to publication in selected newspapers.

He stressed that the legislation would give counties the option to publish online or in both the electronic and print mediums, but it is not binding.

Currently, counties and cities, under Minnesota law, are not allowed to publish official legal notices only online.

Commissioner George McMahon asked Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter if the proposed legislation would fall in line with the state’s open meeting law.

Her opinion was that it would, and she added, “I think it’s in recognition of the changing of our society where people are more likely relying upon electronically acquired data and information, and we all recognize it. Published newspapers are relied upon less and less by our residents, so what this legislation would do is it would allow us to use the website for official notices and publications, but it does not require it.”

Commissioner Ben Montzka said he thought it was fine to publish notices on the county’s website in addition to a newspaper, but many county residents would not be able to see the notices if the county went the website-only route.

“I think it’s very important to continue the current legal requirements to publish in the paper,” he said. “Many citizens get (county information) from there, and I have noticed that each one of our local newspapers have their notices on the Internet.”

Commissioner George McMahon agreed with Montzka’s assertion.

“I hear a lot of people don’t use websites, but they read the local newspapers cover to cover,” he said. “A lot of people are going to miss what’s going on if we choose to go just on the website. I think in this age of technology, there are still some of us who are left behind, and I’m one of them. I believe in the paper — something I can hold in my hand. I think we’re going to miss something if we don’t keep that information out there.”

Commissioner Lora Walker said now is not the time to publish notices only on the Internet.

“Just a few years back, we talked a great deal about how many people in the county have computers and how they access their data,” she said. “I think we’re not quite at that place where everybody relies on electronic communication. Certainly there are many residents who do, but there are many residents who don’t. AMC can approve this on behalf of many counties, but it doesn’t have to apply to our county.”

Commissioner Mike Robinson asked Messelt if counties could save money if the legislation were approved and counties took advantage of the website-only option.

“Not knowing all of the background from AMC, but looking at the resolution, one of the assumptions seems to be that if you don’t publish in both places — in a newspaper and on your website — that there would be a cost savings, given that the clause that they wrote is, ‘Whereas utilizing county websites to publish public notices would eliminate time and the costly burden of publishing in newspapers.’”

Montzka noted there is an aspect of publishing in newspapers that he views as more important than saving money: governmental transparency.

“I think this is an example of AMC thinking about things in a closed room without thinking of how it looks in the public or what the public wants,” he said. “If we need to get out information out there on the Internet, we’re going to do that, but we don’t want to support, as a county board, a cost-saving measure which results in government being conducted in the shadows.”

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