Glenwood voters divided over need to publish full legal notices
Glenwood Springs officials have learned a thing or two this week about city voters’ reading habits when it comes to keeping track of city business.A lot of voters could do without newspaper legal notices containing the text of ordinances that have passed in their first reading by City Council.But a lot of others apparently are fans of that fine print, which the city runs in the Post Independent.A proposed charter change that would let the city stop publishing ordinance texts in the newspaper garnered 722 votes in Tuesday’s election. But 719 voted against the change. And its outcome remains up in the air.Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico said 18 Glenwood ballots were mailed back without signatures. Her office contacts those voters and offers them the chance to sign their ballots and have them counted.They have until 5 p.m. Nov. 14 to do so, leaving the legal notice question in limbo for now.Council member Dave Merritt said he was surprised the vote on the question was so close. The city sees publishing ordinances on its Web site as a cost-saving alternative to the legal notices, and Merritt thinks that makes sense at a time when people increasingly are looking to the Internet for information.”People really do use that, and I think that’s the way to get information out,” he said.But it could be that people still want the ordinances made available in a more public fashion, he said.City clerk Robin Unsworth said city officials didn’t feel strongly about the proposed change. They just saw it as a way of saving taxpayers some money, but the decision ultimately is up to voters, she said.She sees a message in the close vote.”That tells me that people are reading those ordinances, and if they want to see them in the newspaper, that’s great,” she said.She said her office spent about $7,000 last year to publish ordinances in the paper, as well as other public notices such as those regarding liquor licenses. Under the proposed change, the titles of ordinances still would have to be published, but not the full text. Post Independent publisher Andrea Porter said that while everybody likes saving money, printing the ordinances in full provides the public with a valuable service. And it makes sense to print them in the same place that carries lots of other legal notices from governments, lawyers and others, rather than forcing people to look elsewhere for such information, she said.”It’s a convenient place for all the information to be. It provides value to our readers, to the community, to our customers,” Porter said.The issue of publishing legal notices has been a political battleground in Colorado for years. Ed Otte, executive director of the Colorado Press Association, said bills repeatedly have been introduced in an attempt to change requirements to publish legal notices.”It’s always to give local government the option of running it on their Web site or in the paper, and you know if they get that option what they’ll do is they’ll drop the papers in a hurry,” he said.He believes the cost of legal notices is minuscule compared to the size of government budgets, and it makes sense to run the notices where people also find news coverage of public entities.Larry Kallenberger, executive director of Colorado Counties Inc., said getting any changes regarding legal notices through the legislature is hard because of the sway newspapers have with their local lawmakers. CCI recently managed to win approval of a bill saying counties no longer have to publish employee salaries in the newspaper by name, and instead can list the salaries by position.He said counties recognize the importance of newspapers in getting information out to the public. But he added, “I think our people are always chafing at the notion that they have to be forced to pay for things that they aren’t being asked for by the public.”Merritt said if the charter change doesn’t pass now, changing times could lead to a day where the public supports new ways of getting information out to them, possibly such as asking to get on a city e-mail list.”Maybe things like that would make people more comfortable” about making a change, he said.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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