Rifle wants to change legal notices procedure
Citizen Telegram Editor
The city of Rifle wants to join a growing list of communities in Colorado and nationwide that no longer publish the full text of approved ordinances in qualified newspapers, such as The Citizen Telegram.
City Council, on a 5-0 vote with councilmembers Jonathan Rice and Jennifer Sanborn absent, gave initial approval to an ordinance at its June 5 meeting that would ask city voters to consider a charter amendment at the Sept. 10 municipal election that would change the definition of “publication” to include online and high tech options.
City Attorney Jim Neu told council the charter section pertaining to this was established in 1965. Currently, the city charter defines “publication” to mean in a newspaper of general circulation within the city. With advancing technology and evolving methods of receiving information, Neu wrote in a memo to the council, having this definition of publication in the charter “seems a bit stringent.”
Changing the charter to reflect current technology, Neu continued, would allow the City Council to determine the most effective way to inform residents, would keep the city modern and meet the needs of the city into the future.
“Publishing ordinances in full in a newspaper is very costly to the city,” Neu wrote, “and publishing ordinances by title with notice that the entire ordinance is available in full on the city’s website is a more fiscally responsible and still effective method to inform the public.”
Finance Director Charles Kelty said on Friday, June 7, that the city paid $38,305 to publish legal notices in 2011, $24,736 last year and just more than $8,000 so far this year.
Along with city ordinances, legal notices the city publishes in either The Citizen Telegram or Glenwood Springs Post Independent include capital project bid and contractor settlement announcements.
If the ballot question passes, the charter and city code would be amended to define “publication” to mean “ordinances shall be published by title in a newspaper of general circulation within the city and contain a notice that the entire ordinance is available in full on the city’s website, which shall contain such ordinances in full for a minimum of 60 days following final passage,” Neu wrote in his memo.
City Councilman Randy Winkler said if a citizen who wants to read an ordinance in full, but does not have a computer, they can go to City Hall and obtain a copy.
Mayor Pro Tem Alan Lambert, a former journalist in other Colorado towns, said, at one time, such newspapers survived on the revenue from legal notices.
Citizen Telegram Publisher Stephanie Schafer, who also holds that position with the Post Independent and Grand Junction Free Press, told the council the revenue such notices bring in today is “minimal.”
“We’re more concerned with keeping people informed about what’s going on in their community,” she added. “If your intent is to keep the public informed, I don’t think that will be satisfied by using the Internet alone. With a newspaper, they have greater availability and opportunity, since they’re more easily accessible.”
“A community newspaper is part of the face of a community,” Lambert stated. “I’d hate to do anything to hurt our newspaper, but I also want to save the city money.”
The ordinance will be considered by council a second time on Monday, June 17. If it is approved, it must be published in full as required by the charter. It would appear on the Sept. 10 municipal election ballot. If approved by voters, the amendment would take effect on Oct. 1.
Another charter amendment given initial approval to appear on the Sept. 10 ballot would require City Council to hold annual strategic planning retreats. The city has held such gatherings for many years, and councilmembers praised the process for helping they and city staff focus on priorities for each year.
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