There is now plenty of rush discussion in the state Legislature that would dismantle a long-standing state law that requires the City of New Brunswick - and municipal governments statewide - to publish legal notices in printed newspapers.
Gov. Chris Christie and others are advocating for a change in the law, allowing municipalities to publish legal notices on their own websites. There is obviously tremendous debate on the issue, as it would strip funding from journalistic enterprises that cover local government.
As owner of TAPInto New Brunswick, I offer a compromise: The legislation should be amended to require legal notices be placed on online news sites that have at least 100 unpaid subscribers (as most online news sites are free to access). This would achieve transparency, eliminate the need for municipalities to redevelop their websites to accommodate legal notices, create a level playing field for bidders, and significantly reduce the expense of legal notices.
Here are the concerns with the proposed legislation:
1) Most municipal websites do not have good SEO (search engine optimization) so when someone searches for a given topic area on a municipal website on search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing, the municipal website rarely comes up in the search. So if legal notices are posted on municipal websites, the only way to find such notices would be to go to every municipal website individually.
This significantly reduces transparency and provides an unfair advantage to large companies who have the resources to visit every municipal website to find legal notices and submit bids.
2) Many municipalities' websites do not have the capability to post legal notices. Such capability will need to be built by the municipality and maintained by either a staff member or a web developer, at significant expense, on an ongoing basis.
Here's why my recommendation is the better solution:
1) Online news sites have excellent SEO so when notices are played on such sites, they can easily be found on search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing. As a result, there is full transparency and all bidders will have the same access to such notices.
2) Municipalities would simply post the legal notices on online news sites that already can accommodate such notices, without any development cost to the municipality.
3) Legal notices on online sites are significantly less expensive than notices in print, saving municipalities tens of thousands of dollars per year.
If the legislation is amended so that legal notices are posted on online news sites, New Brunswick and other towns will achieve significant cost savings while increasing transparency and creating a level playing field for all companies and individuals who seek to bid for municipal work.