The majority of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners are in favor of not being required to pay to place public notices in paid circulation newspapers and voted in favor of the resolution in support of a bill that would allow the county to place public notices on its own website.
House Bill 205 was passed by the Republican legislature and vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
If the state House and Senate override North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, then not only will Guilford County have the option of placing public notices on its own website rather than paying to have them run in area paid circulation newspapers, but the county will also be empowered to sell space on its website to the state and to municipalities in the county for their public notices and to attorneys for the legal notices that they are required to run by state law.
Guilford County would then have revenue coming into its coffers for public notices rather than going out.
HB205 specifies that Guilford County would be allowed to keep 50 percent of the revenue and 50 percent would be allocated to the schools to fund teacher supplements.
The Board of Commissioners at its Thursday, August 3 meeting, voted along straight party lines to pass a resolution supporting the state bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Trudy Wade. Chairman Jeff Phillips and Commissioners Hank Henning, Alan Branson and Justin Conrad voted for the resolution and Commissioners Kay Cashion, Skip Alston and Carolyn Coleman voted against. Commissioners Alan Perdue and Carlvena Foster were both absent.
Henning, who introduced the resolution entitled “Resolution in Support of Modernizing the Publication of Legal Advertisements and Public Notices in Guilford County,” noted that the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners had supported similar legislation for the past four years as part of its legislative agenda. Henning said, “It simply expands the options.”
Henning added, “I think this is a no brainer. I don’t think it’s controversial.”
The law would not require that Guilford County or any other entity place public notices or legal advertising on its website. The legal requirement for notifying the public could still be met by advertising in paid circulation newspapers, but it does offer the option of only running the notices and advertisements on the county website or of placing them on the website and continuing to purchase newspaper advertising.
It is controversial only because the paid circulation newspapers see the law as taking away a state-mandated monopoly that brings them a lot of revenue.
Under the current law, governments and those placing legal notices have no choice – the advertising has to be placed in a paid circulation newspaper.
It is so controversial, in fact, that it brought the publisher of the News & Recordto the Guilford County commissioners meeting – an event that has not happened in recent years.
News & Record Publisher and Editor Daniel Finnegan, as one might expect, spoke against the resolution. He said that the public’s right to know should not be compromised, but failed to explain why – in this world of instant worldwide communication via the internet – the government should be forced by the state to communicate with the public only through print advertising in paid circulation newspapers.
He noted that the News & Record placed the ads on its own website.
Carolina Peacemaker Editor Afrique Kilimanjaro also spoke against the resolution. Kilamanjaro said that the law would remove legal notices from Guilford County newspapers.
This will likely, but not necessarily, be the result of the law. If newspapers charge less for legal notices than Guilford County, then it is likely the newspapers will keep the business.
Kilimanjaro also said the law would “hurt newspapers financially in Guilford County.”
And that, of course, is the reason paid circulation newspapers are in such opposition. They now have a government mandate where public notices and legal advertising have to be run in paid circulation newspapers to comply with the law. If that mandate is removed then newspapers will have to lower their rates to compete with Guilford County. The question that has to be asked is, is it the job of the state to provide a revenue stream, much of it in tax dollars, to keep select newspapers in business.
The very fact that the Carolina Peacemaker meets the requirements for public notices and legal advertising proves how outdated the current law is. The Carolina Peacemaker has a circulation of not over 5,000, almost exclusively in the black community of Greensboro. Guilford County has a population of over 500,000, yet according to state law, advertising in a newspaper with a circulation that doesn’t equal 1 percent of the population fulfills the obligation of public notice.
Coleman said that she opposed the resolution because she didn’t think the state should “meddle” in county business, which is an odd argument since this is a proposed state law to amend an existing state law.
Coleman added, “North Carolina has a number of poor people who cannot afford to have access to computers and tablets.” Coleman later explained that she didn’t think the poor people she was talking about subscribed to the newspaper but that they could go down to the library and read the newspaper. But by the same token, they could go to the library and use a computer for free to access the county website.
Coleman after the meeting said that it would make more sense to her to have the advertisements run in free publications available to everyone rather than paid circulation newspapers, but that she didn’t think placing them on the county website was right.
Cashion, whose computer illiteracy has been well documented in this newspaper, said that she didn’t go to the county website for anything and didn’t think the commissioners should be talking about the bill at all.
Alston said he thought they should wait to talk about the bill after it became law, not while they were waiting to see if the legislature overrides the governor’s veto.
The commissioners voted 6 to 1 to pass a resolution to allow bars and restaurants in unincorporated Guilford County to sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays beginning at 10 a.m. instead of noon. This is called the brunch bill and had already passed the board once, but did not pass unanimously.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said that since it didn’t pass unanimously, it had to come back for a second vote where a simple majority would put the new law into effect. So the brunch bill is now in effect. Coleman cast the lone vote against Sunday morning drinking.
Alston and Coleman got into rather strident discussion about the county signing contracts with six architectural firms to be on call for county projects costing less than $500,000.
Alston and Coleman objected because none of the six were black architectural firms.
Facilities, Parks and Property Management Director Robert McNiece explained that of the 5,600 architects licensed in North Carolina, only 34 are listed as black on the state’s Historically Underutilized Business database and none of those 34 applied. McNiece said they had contacted several local black firms but none were interested in applying to work on small county projects.
Coleman and Alston insisted that the county staff had not tried hard enough to include a black architect on the list.
Alston said, “There are 34 out there and we have none of them on this list. I can’t support this list.”
The list was accepted by the commissioners on a 5-to-2 vote with Alston and Coleman voting no and both promised to keep checking back until the county found a black architect willing to be added to the list.
If you are looking for a prime example of micromanagement by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, you couldn’t do much better than the Rich Fork Preserve in High Point. The commissioners on August 3 unanimously approved the map of the walking and biking trails through the park.
Rich Fork Preserve has been highly controversial because the hikers, along with the preservationists that want to preserve the old Hedgecock homestead on the property, didn’t want mountain biking trails on the property and the mountain bikers did.
However, all that has been worked out and there was only one speaker on the plan for the trails, which keeps the mountain bikers on one portion of the property away from the historic homestead.
Cashion asked if there was opposition.
Henning said that the fact that the chamber wasn’t filled like it was before was proof that the issues had been worked out.