A bill that recently passed the North Carolina Senate could allow municipalities in 10 counties to refrain from issuing public notices to local newspapers informing citizens of governmental meetings. The Town of Franklin's Board of Aldermen discussed this issue at its scheduled meeting Monday. Macon is one of the counties listed in the bill that provides municipalities the option to publish the notices in local newspapers.
“In North Carolina, there is about $11 million a year spent to provide public notices in print,” said Senator Jim Davis who represents Macon County. “This bill will give counties and municipalities the option to continue doing as they are currently doing, or they can put it on their website to reach the public.”
In North Carolina, the public must be notified of governmental meetings. This bill would require a governing body, be it the city or county to publish a public notice on a government website if they were to opt out of publishing the notice in a local newspaper.
At the moment, Davis says that wording of the statute that requires the notice states that legal notices must be published in the dominant newspaper of the area to reach the broadest audience.
“We just want to give them the option that fits their needs,” he said about policies used by towns and counties.
At the meeting Monday night, Alderman Bob Scott brought attention to the bill that will now head to the House of Representatives. In the past, the Town of Franklin has sent notice to the General Assembly that they would not support such a bill.
“A lot of people don't have access to the internet,” said Scott. “This is another mandate passed down from the state and it is going to take away the public's right to know what is going on with their local government. We don't have to follow the bill, but there are some municipalities that will use this to their advantage.”
Scott also pointed out that the town usually spends around $1,500 a year to publish notices in the local newspapers.
“If it's not broke, don't try to fix it,” added Alderman Verlin Curtis.
The board’s discussion indicated an inclination against the passage of the bill, but the issue brought up at the Town Hall meeting was whether it was premature to take action in regards to the bill that could take weeks or months to become law.
“I just don't think there is any point in taking action when we sent a message to Raleigh pretty recently telling them that we didn't agree with this type of legislation,” said Alderman Billy Mashburn.
Alderman Joyce Handley pointed out that there were new officials serving since then.
“We've had an election since then,” she said. “I don't think it's a bad idea to let them know again, that we do not agree with the bill.”
Mayor Joe Collins suggested that the board take a vote on whether or not they wanted to voice their opposition to the bill, stating that Franklin would continue to publish notices as it has always done. The vote passed 4-2, with Scott, Curtis, Handley, and Alderman Sissy Pattillo approving of the motion, while Aldermen Farrell Jamison and Billy Mashburn dissented.
“I understand that the Town of Franklin has opposed this type of legislation in the past, but the thing about this bill is that it gives them the choice,” said Davis. “They don't have to change anything if they don't want to.”