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Hillsboro votes to stop printing public notices

Staff writer

Public notices for the City of Hillsboro no longer will be printed in a newspaper.

City council members voted 4-1, with Byron McCarty opposed, Tuesday night to designate the city’s website, instead of the Hillsboro Star-Journal, as “the city newspaper.”

Newspaper editor and publisher Eric Meyer spoke to council members during public comment session to explain the benefits of placing notices in a newspaper.

Meyer said notices found in the pages of a newspaper are a permanent record, whereas online notices could be tampered with.

He said that although no current Hillsboro government leaders would unscrupulously alter a legal notice after was approved, they could be just one election or one hire away from someone who would.

Hackers could do that, as well.

Meyer said average citizens typically don’t go looking at the city website every week to see whether any public policy has changed, but they do check newspapers regularly and might see a notice there that never would find if they didn’t know to look for it.

The newspaper has more than 100 years of records that people regularly come to check, he said.

Meyer’s words struck a chord with observer Ronald Wilkins, a candidate for city council, who spoke during the meeting’s second public comment session.

“If someone didn’t have access to the website, would they be able to come to the city hall to get a copy of it?” he asked.

“It’s there, if anybody wants to come get a copy, we’ll be happy to provide a copy of it,” city administrator Matt Stiles said.

Lawyer J.T. Klaus, with the city’s law firm Triplett Woolf Garretson, which has pushed for websites instead of newspapers in other cities, said state law was “pretty clear” that cities could charter out from under a state statute requiring all legal notices be published in a newspaper.

An attorney general’s opinion supported that, he said.

“I cannot in good conscience sit here today as an officer of the court and say you can’t rely upon an attorney general’s opinion,” Klaus said.

Stiles corrected a statement he made two weeks ago that the newspaper’s legal notices are behind a pay wall if placed in the Star-Journal. Users can find the notices for free by going to the Star-Journal webpage’s “More” button, then selecting “classifieds and public notices.”

Stiles told council members the city website got 1,728 views from 528 users between Sept. 14 and 25.

In the same period, the Star-Journal website got 333,850 views from 23,770 users.

Although a letter from Meyer to council members about the matter was posted on the city website two weeks ago, no public comments came in, Stiles said.

Stiles said the cost of publication had increased since a charter ordinance allowing use the city’s website was approved in 2021. At that time, the city’s publication of legal notices averaged $5,000 a year, and now average $8,766, according to Stiles.

Stiles said part of the cost increase is because of rate changes and part is because the city has taken more actions that require legal publication.

“We are charged with doing what’s in the best interest of the people of Hillsboro,” Mayor Lou Thurston said before calling for a vote.

After the split vote to pass an ordinance naming the city website the official city newspaper, Thurston said he was comfortable with the city’s decision and ready to move on.

After the meeting, Meyer disagreed. “Calling a city website a newspaper is a gimmick based on untested legal theories pushed by out-of-town law firms whose main intent is to keep citizens in the dark,” Meyer said. “We will challenge this decision in every way possible.”

In other matters, council members voted to approve a one-year conditional use permit for a bed and breakfast at 205 N. Lincoln St. and heard an annual report from city clerk Danielle Bartel.

Last modified Oct. 4, 2023

 

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