Some counties in North Carolina may be on track to get the same right Guilford County got four years ago.
The ability to meet the legal requirements of public notices by posting those notices on a county-run website rather than paying to place them in local paid circulation newspapers.
Local governments in the state are legally required to post all sorts of notices – public meeting announcements, foreclosures, rezoning hearings, etc. – and, for years and years, North Carolina law has required local governments to run those notices in paid circulation newspapers. However, about four years ago, the state legislature freed Guilford County from that requirement and now 2021 is starting to look like the year that other counties get to do so as well.
House Bill 51, which is about to go to a legislative committee vote, would allow the counties of Beaufort, Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Carteret, Craven, Gates, Harnett, Hertford, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrell and Washington – along with the cities and towns in those counties – to adopt ordinances that authorize the electronic publication of notices on county websites for the purpose of meeting the legal requirements of those notices.
A similar bill, House Bill 35, would do the same for Burke, Currituck, Davidson, Davie, Iredell, Montgomery, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford and Stanly counties.
The bills would also allow those counties, as Guilford County can already do, to post notices from private parties when individuals and businesses are required by law to inform the public of some action.
There are two bills rather than one so that the bills qualify as local legislation and are therefore free of the threat of a veto from the governor.
Many paid circulation newspapers around the state have been opposed to this legislation because these government notices have been a cash cow for the papers for a very long time.
The NC Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) – which favors the legislation – has started alerting all counties in the state to prepare for the possibility since it’s something that could save the counties a lot of expense. Last week, NCACC Executive Director Kevin Leonard spoke to a House committee in favor of the bills. The committee didn’t vote on the bills but is expected to do so soon.
An article in the Charlotte Observer last week profiled Guilford County’s experience with the new practice regarding notices, and a concurrent editorial in the Observer stated, “By splitting the counties, each bill is considered a local bill — affecting fewer than 15 counties — and therefore not subject to the governor’s veto under North Carolina law. But if you’re accomplishing the same larger purpose in two separate measures, they’re not really local bills. Legislators know it, and they should stop trying to skirt the law.”
Still, the legislation seems to now have momentum – and the following local governments are already permitted to use electronic notice for many notices: Cabarrus County, Raleigh, the towns of Lake Waccamaw, Apex, Garner, Knightdale and Cary, as well as Guilford County and the cities and the towns of Archdale, Burlington, Gibsonville, Greensboro, High Point, Jamestown, Kernersville, Oak Ridge, Pleasant Garden, Sedalia, Stokesdale, Summerfield and Whitsett.