Newspapers provide checks and balances with legal notices

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

The most important role of a newspaper is to inform the public.

This is done with a variety of news items, such as stories, advertising and photographs.

Another item that is a vital ingredient of a newspaper is public/legal notices, which are found in the classified section.

Public/legal notices are required by law to be published in the newspaper, and the majority of them come from attorneys and taxing bodies in municipalities.

In recent years, local governments have attempted to remove public/legal notices from newspapers.

This is a bad idea for many reasons, No. 1  being that the public has a right to know.

Governmental bodies want to put these notices on a government Web site, rather than in newspapers.

This would be like students grading their own papers or businesses not being required to be monitored by the health department.

Without all governmental bodies being required to publish these notices in a paper of general distribution, government officials could run wild with taxpayer money.

They could publish their notices in no-name Web sites or newspapers with a very small distribution.

The public would be none the wiser about what was happening with their money.

In other words, there are no checks and balances.

It is important that government happenings remain transparent, especially when the people in Illinois are already distrustful after the Rod Blagojevich debacle.

Plus, many elderly people do not have the Internet and rely on newspapers for this information.

TimesNewspapers’ classified advertising manager Alana Makowski said these public and legal notices provide a wealth of information that people would otherwise not know about, such as new business openings, foreclosures and estates.

“There are heirs out there. There are people who have a right to know someone has died and they can file a claim (for property or money),” she said.

“Most people don’t know what to do when someone dies. When (legals) are delivered in the homes, they can keep track.”

Other legal and public notices inform people about property tax assessments and financial statements from schools.

“It lets people know where their tax dollars are being spent,” Makowski said.

The Illinois Press Association is involved in maintaining that these notices are put into newspapers.

In an attempt to curtail the government from uploading these notices to a Web site of its own creation, the Illinois Press Association created one at PublicNoticeIllinois.com.

The Web site is controlled and maintained by the press association.

As an added measure of protection, the IPA board voted to introduce legislation (HB 5232) requiring all public notices be uploaded to the Public Notice Illinois Web site.

Newspaper staff would upload notices to this Web site at no additional cost to the governmental body after the notice appears in the publication.

It is important that we keep our checks and balances in place in a democracy, and the press association is ensuring that newspapers can continue to do just that.