Jun 26, 2020 1:46 PM

🎥 City of Hays moves legal notices online; concerns noted by KPA

Posted Jun 26, 2020 1:46 PM
The city of Hays website is now the site for all legal publications by the city. The newspaper — the Hays Daily News — will still be used for certain notices, including bond issues.
The city of Hays website is now the site for all legal publications by the city. The newspaper — the Hays Daily News — will still be used for certain notices, including bond issues.

By BECKY KISER
Hays Post

For the first time in many years, the Hays Daily News will no longer be the site for publication of legal public notices by the city of Hays.

The city's website, www.haysusa.com, has been designated the official city news outlet as of June 25.

Hays city commissioners unanimously approved the resolution Thursday night.

At its March 26 meeting, the city commission unanimously voted to adopt a charter ordinance allowing the city of Hays the ability to publish official notices via the city’s website.

No public petition was received during the 60-day protest period.

"The state of Kansas does require a newspaper to be designated as the official city publication, or at least a news source," said Collin Bielser, assistant city manager. "The modification of that requirement is allowed by charter ordinance."

"There's obviously been a reduction in Hays Daily News staff, which has made publications somewhat difficult at times," Bielser noted. "Many of these issues are time-sensitive publications and being allowed to use the city website allows much more instantaneous upload of the information."

Notices will appear on the front page of the city website for a minimum of two weeks, a longer time than they've been in the newspaper.

"State statute only requires an ordinance to be published once in the paper," he said.

The city of Hays spends an average of $9,400 a year to publish legal notices in the Hays Daily News.

"We'll receive much of those savings," Bielser added.

Max Kautsch, media attorney for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters and Kansas Press Association, is concerned such changes may be detrimental to all Kansans.

"Although the city may have a right to avoid its obligations under state law by invoking 'home rule,' the possible economic benefits to the city's bottom line seem unlikely to outweigh the harm the community suffers when a local paper loses an important revenue stream, thereby damaging its ability to report matters in the public interest," Kautsch wrote in an email to Hays Post Friday. 

The legalities of making the switch were researched extensively by John Bird, city attorney. 

"The state has statutes that require different class cities handle things differently. If it's not a uniform piece of legislation, then you're allowed to pass a charter ordinance, which is what the city did, along with Lenexa, Inman and other cities," Bird said Friday morning.

McPherson also changed to online publications last week.

Based on population, Hays is a  "second class city" in Kansas. 

"Because the state has not uniformly dictated how these are done, we have the ability to designate our own official news outlet," Bird explained.

The Hays Daily News will be still used along with the city website when bond issues are involved.

"When a city uses bonds to finance a project, there's a transcript of the proceedings that's created. The bond attorneys are required by statute to present that to the attorney general to look at it and review it and 'say grace' on it," Bird said. "Our bond attorneys felt they may run into a problem because the attorney general's office doesn't commonly run across [online legal notices]. 

"The internet has completely changed the game as far as notifying the public. It certainly has a bigger audience than any subscription news outlet out there. 

"And you have to pay money to subscribe to a newspaper. So you don't get to look at legal notices unless you pay somebody."

Bird believes the free access to legal publications is what appealed the most to the city in its decision.

Despite new technology, the longtime tradition of printing legal notices in newspapers should continue, according to  Emily Bradbury, Kansas Press Association executive director.

"Requiring independent, third-party newspapers to ensure that public notices run in accordance with the law helps prevent government officials from hiding information they would prefer the public not to see," Bradbury wrote  in an email.

"In addition, newspaper websites have a much larger audience than government websites," she added. "Transparency matters."

Bird expects the Kansas attorney general's office will eventually make an opinion statement on use of the internet.  

Individuals can sign up to receive news alerts each time a Hays legal notice is published by visiting www.haysusa.com and clicking on “Sign up for, Notifications/Notify Me” underneath the “How Do I …” tab.

Disclosure: Hays Post and Eagle Radio of Hays are members of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters and the Kansas Press Association.