Crow Wing County supports changing how it communicates with the public
Crow Wing County commissioners voted Tuesday to support proposed legislation seeking to move public notices away from official newspaper publications to government websites.
The Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) is seeking legislative support for a resolution to let counties designate their own websites to satisfy state requirements to publish notices for the public.
If this change is successful, local governments could publish official notices, proceedings and summaries on their websites instead of newspapers. The move is part of AMC’s platform but the association is seeking support from individual counties to demonstrate broad support.
County Administrator Tim Houle said the question is whether the time has come to allow the county website to take care of publications instead of paying more than $50,000 annually for newspaper publishing. In 2012, the publication cost to the county was $52,285 to the Dispatch. In 2013, the county paid the free publication NewsHopper $59,950.
Houle said it’s understood there are people who don’t have access to electronic communication.
The bill before the Minnesota State Legislature states print copies of documents posted to the web must be available at the main government office and all public libraries within the jurisdiction and by mail upon request. Information must be maintained in a permanent record accessible to the public.
“Publication on the website may be used in place of or in addition to any other required form of publication,” the bill states.
The county currently puts information on its website in addition to its official publication, which now means notices to the public are printed in the Brainerd Dispatch, with additional publication in Pineandlakes Echo Journal and Crosby Courier. The Dispatch also carries the notices on its website.
Crow Wing County commissioners didn’t have extensive discussion on the subject.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Paul Koering said supporting the legislation was bumping up against his personal rule against letters of support. Commissioner Paul Thiede asked if Koering wouldn’t have looked to see what Crow Wing County’s position was on the subject when faced with a vote when he was in the Legislature. Koering said Thiede was probably right. “I’ll support this,” Koering said.
The resolution the board supported states as residents expect and demand an immediate format, that counties should have the authority to determine the best and most efficient method of communicating information to citizens based on expectations and using county websites to publish notices would eliminate the time and costly burden publishing in newspapers.
The resolution goes on to say county websites are increasingly the first place people look for information about their counties and the county website has the ability to provide people with up-to-date, detailed information exceeding that of print media.
The Dispatch, Crow Wing County’s official paper, had 247,414 unique, or first-time, visitors to the website in January. The Dispatch had 1,416,000 page views in January.
In July 2013, the last numbers available for the county website because of a vendor change, show 48,633 unique visitors that month. The highest monthly total recorded for 2013 was 75,195 in October of 2013. As a comparison, the county’s website unique visitors numbered 32,050 in January of 2011 and 35,340 in January of 2012.
The top viewed Crow Wing County web page was the in-custody page of jail inmates with 175,686 views January through November of 2013. The county’s home page, property records and taxes, interactive maps and active warrants rounded out the top five viewed pages.
Thiede said if he thought about it earlier he would have invited Pete Mohs, Echo Journal publisher and MNA president to be part of the discussion to get his opinion. Reached at his office, Mohs stated he was unable to attend Tuesday’s county board meeting, but he does plan to testify as MNA board president at the senate conference committee hearing. The hearing is tentatively scheduled for late February in St. Paul.
The Crow Wing County Board unanimously supported the resolution supporting the bill.
The majority of the Douglas County Board recently voted against supporting the resolution. The Alexandria Echo Press, Douglas County’s official newspaper, reported on the Douglas County Board discussion. Douglas County Commissioner Charlie Meyer said: “I think we should use all media available to share information ... but I don’t think we should limit it, ever.”