The Polk County Commission has voted to continue advertising important public business in newspapers, following impassioned pleas from community members and local media outlets. The proposal to launch a county-run website for public notices instead of placing them in newspapers was ultimately rejected with a vote of 3-2.
The decision was made during a regularly scheduled meeting, which had been advertised in a newspaper, at the County Administration Building in Bartow. Commission Chairman George Lindsey and Commissioners Martha Santiago and Neil Combee voted against the proposal, despite Combee’s previous public comments that seemed to support it. However, Combee expressed confusion about the vote during the meeting.
Chairman Lindsey stated that the decision was to “stay the course as we are today,” but acknowledged that the matter could be revisited if Combee chose to do so. Lindsey suggested a potential “hybrid” solution, combining newspaper advertising with posting information on a county website.
Traditionally, governmental boards have been required to purchase notices in local newspapers to announce important meetings and changes. However, a recent bill passed the Florida legislature allowed for the use of a public website for notices instead.
During the meeting, various individuals expressed their opinions on the issue. Retired teacher Valla Dana Treuman argued that the County Commission needed to be transparent with public information and highlighted the importance of public notices in newspapers, which have been in use for over 250 years. On the other hand, Commissioner Combee argued that most people in the county had internet access and could view the notices on a government-run website.
Jim Fogler, president of the Florida Press Association, emphasized that the measure would result in less transparency and information for the public. He stated that newspaper websites are typically the highest-traffic sites in the communities they serve. The Florida Press Association partnered with tech partner Column to help newspapers implement the new state law and created a website, floridapublicnotices.com, to host all government notices for free public use.
Nancy Solliday, representing Gannett Media Inc., expressed the company’s support for a free press and its investment in Florida. Gannett is the largest local media company in the United States, owning 218 daily newspapers and having 168 million unique website visitors every month.
To help save the county money, David Dunn-Rankin of D-R Media and Investments LLC offered to publish most legal notices for free, both in print and online. He also offered to build a website for public notices at no cost to the county. Dunn-Rankin clarified that his offer applied to required public notices, while non-required notices would still require payment. According to a Polk County spokeswoman, the total cost to manage the government website would be approximately $30,000 per year.
The decision to continue advertising public notices in newspapers ensures that the public will still have access to important information about the county’s business and activities.
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