Why Public Notices matter and why you need to know

Those of us who toil in the vineyard of the printed word as newspaper men and women are deeply concerned this legislative session as Missouri’s government is actively taking steps to keep you, our readers, in the dark about financial situations which some of you may be facing, or already are facing.

Legislation has been introduced in the Missouri Senate to take all public notices out of printed newspapers and put them on websites, either run by the entities wanting to publish the information or on a Secretary of State website that does not yet exist. 

This legislation is known as Senate Bill 268 and you could very well be seriously impacted by its outcome if some lending agency takes action to foreclose on your property —or that of someone you know and love. Or if municipality is considering the land near you for rezoning for a type of establishment or use which is not something you would particularly want being constructed in your back yard.

The owner of this newspaper, The Maries County Advocate, recently testified against this proposed piece of legislation before a Senate Committee. 

The Missouri Press Association is proposing a counter measure, as it were, to hopefully convince legislators the bill they are considering is wrong for you, their constituents — and newspapers in general — which have a stake in remaining a community’s keeper of records through archives of published legal notices. The Missouri Press Association, and his publication, reminds you — our readers — of the many ways public notices are vital to the functioning of our society. 

A proper Public Notice has five elements. A Public Notice must be:

1. Published by an independent party.

2. Accessible to the public.

3. Authenticated by the publisher.

4. Capable of being archived in a secure and accessible format.

5. Transparent.

To examine this issue in greater detail, here’s some information the Missouri Press Association has provided its member newspapers. We here at The Maries County Advocate, along with the Gasconade County Republican and Linn Unterrified Democrat publications, are MPA members.

Public Notices must be published by a neutral and independent party. Allowing government officials to post their own Public Notices eliminates third-party neutral interest, and  removes any independent proof of publication required by the courts. 

Public Notices must be accessible to the public. A person won’t see a Public Notice if he or she doesn’t have a computer. Some rural areas of Missouri simply do not have high-speed internet, and large segments of society in Missouri lack the financial means to purchase a computer or to pay for monthly internet access.

Face it…some of our neighbors just don’t do computers. Non-access disenfranchises many citizens, especially those who are more infrequent users, including elderly and low-income citizens.

Internet access by rural Missouri residents is far below that of their urban counterparts. More rural Missouri residents read their community newspaper on a daily and weekly basis than read anything on the internet, especially anything connected to a government website.

The act of publishing a Public Notice must be verified and authenticated by the Publisher.

Newspapers serve as an authentic record of publication, and provide sworn affidavits that Public Notices were published along with physical ink-on-paper tearsheets of the Notice as proof that it was printed in the newspaper. Internet websites notify no one and can prove nothing with authenticity. 

Public Notices must be archived in a secure and accessible format.

The internet does not provide a reliable archival history of Public Notices. The internet remains highly vulnerable to hacking, and it is unstable. There have been examples of hackers disrupting even supposedly highly-secured computers and websites in our nation.

Known as “Hacktivists,” they have gone after everyone…police departments, hospitals, small towns, big cities, and states have come under attack. Online “hacking activists” have successfully frozen government servers, defaced websites, and hacked into data and email. Computer problems and downed government servers can prevent public access at any given time. 

Websites notify no one. A website does not push out or distribute Public Notices to anyone.

However, via a newspaper which is distributed to homes and many public sites and businesses, a reader may see a Public Notice that, for instance, affects his or her unclaimed property or a tract of land next to their property being rezoned or a neighbor’s home being foreclosed upon.

Financial information about a city, county or school district just sits on a computer server until someone actively goes to search for the information. Simply placing Public Notices on the internet does not promote transparency. Local Missouri newspapers are the traditional medium and are legally-recognized by the courts for Public Notices, and they are exactly where citizens, including infrequent newspaper readers, expect to find them. 

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