The Roanoke Times wrote this editorial today saying that governments should post notices of special public meetings in the newspapers, not just on government websites, libraries or text alerts.
First, a clarification. We're talking here about those statutorily mandated public hearing meetings, like the ones held before certain zoning decisions are made, or for school redistricting, etc. We're not talking about the ordinary-course-of-business meetings of councils, boards or commissions.
Advance public notice of these latter meetings is governed by FOIA. The former meetings (or hearings) are governed by other parts of the Code of Virginia, and usually affect a specific project, a distinct piece of property or certain process.
The Roanoke Times correctly points out that "The newspaper ad is the only permanent, third-party way to circulate a notice broadly. The others all are open to abuse by public officials with lax standards for meeting legal notification requirements. A webpage's time stamp can be altered; a broadcast announcement is ephemeral."
The paper also admits that it has a financial interest in the continuation of these public notice ads. Some may thus dismiss the newspaper's concerns as mere self-interest.
The Virginia Coalition for Open Government has no such interest, though.
Our coalition of members represent media, yes, but more so, we represent citizens, advocacy organizations, government groups, elected officials and more. Our 27-member board reserves a majority of its seats (15) for at-large members of the public. Two of our four elected officers work in government.
Despite our lack of financial interest in the publication of public notices in the newspapers, the VCOG board of directors has repeatedly supported the current practice of required newspaper publication.
As recently as October, the VCOG board reaffirmed its position that "the placement of legal notices in newspapers remains important to providing the broadest publication of vital information to residents."
The board was particularly concerned with the impact the move away from print publication would have on rural areas underserved by Internet service (to say nothing of broadband access).
I'll be writing more on the reasons for why we would oppose measures to make newspaper publication option, for now though, we want to make clear that this is NOT a media issue. This is a PUBLIC issue.
The best way to reach the broadest swath of the public is to continue publishing public notices in the state's newspapers.