A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do Public Notices in Newspapers Serve the Public Anymore?

I stumbled upon a public notice in Saturday's Asbury Park Press that the Aberdeen Township Council and the Township Planning Board plan a joint meeting on 27 Sep 2011 at 7 pm in the Aberdeen Township Courtroom to discuss senior housing development on the former South River Metals property. You might recall that the property was labeled a toxic site for many years and was only recently remediated, so development of the property could be controversial.

I know that publishing this public notice met the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, but who on Earth reads the Public Notices pages besides lawyers? Readership of newspapers is way down, so the chances of citizens stumbling upon these mandatory but costly notices are slight. Besides, the listings aren't even posted alphabetically by municipality, so finding the listing even if you know it's there can be daunting.

The notice is surely posted on some wall in town hall as it is supposed to be, but most residents probably visit town hall only once or twice a year. It would be better posted at the library or grocery store. Or Starbucks. I'd see them at Starbucks. I'm there quite often. Oops, wrong municipality. But I'm sure they'd help out, as usual.

Now I don't doubt that citizens who signed up for notification emails from the Township will eventually receive a notice of this meeting. But the online posting isn't required to meet the Sunshine Law deadlines. It's only a courtesy. Why is the event published in print form yet there is no entry online on the township calendar nor is there a proposed agenda posted online? It gives the appearance that legalities are met but effective public notice is delayed. This distorts the intent of the law.

Perhaps the Sunshine Law should be amended to require online notification of public meetings at the same time or prior to the publication of Public Notices in newspapers or at town hall, in recognition of the importance of the Internet in people's daily lives today? Considering the steep cost of public notices and the difficult budgetary times we face, maybe some thought should be given to allowing the posting of notices at the municipality's website in a timely manner as sufficient?


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