LANSING, Mich. — Two new bills signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer require Michigan newspapers to post notices of public meetings, property seizures, proposed zoning changes and similar announcements online for free when government bodies pay for them to run in print.
Advocates say the effort will help improve government transparency and also help small local papers’ bottom lines.
“If it has to be somewhere independent, like a newspaper, there's oversight in what's happening," said Lisa McGraw, a public affairs manager with the Michigan Press Association
She has worked on this issue for the last 10 years or so. She said, if local governments only post their public notices on their websites, sometimes they get buried.
“If they're just putting them on their website and bury them, people won't see them in the next thing you know you're getting your millage bill and how did this happen? Or they're building a prison ten blocks from your house and you had no idea," McGraw said. "It's just kind of good due process to keep this separate and transparent from the actual body that's posting.”
The new bills mean that residents will be able to see public notices from their local governments without having to subscribe to the paper or deal with a paywall. Newspapers will need to post notices on their websites within 72 hours of receiving information from municipalities.
“It keeps us accountable," said state Sen. Curtis VanderWall, a Ludington Republican who co-sponsored the bill. "And especially when you're you're dealing with a county government or city government or township with so many different rules and changes, this actually gives the information. It's much more transparent.”
Posting the notices does cost local governments money. They’re basically buying ad space. And newspapers have lobbied to keep the requirement in place. Posting them electronically is an add on.
"There's just not a lot of print media, local print media anymore," said Jennifer Rigterink, an assistant director of state and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League. "And if you're having to put a notice in print media, that's, you know, a county shopper kind of news or some kind of just legal news publication, those are not really things that your average citizen is going to to look for information on public meetings."
The new laws are already on the books if you’re looking for public notices in your neighborhoods check your local news outlets’ homepages.
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