The medium is the message but city council is now tasked with nailing down which medium that will be.
The provincial Community Charter was recently amended to provide flexibility to municipal governments to consider how to publish required notices to the public, rather than using the previous default method of advertising twice in a local newspaper.
The amended Section 94 of the Charter allows municipal governments to adopt a bylaw providing for “alternative means of publication,” meaning it could choose not to utilize print publication.
On an annual basis, the City of Nelson spends around $45,000 on the required print publication of property dispositions, road closures, public hearings, certain bylaw amendments, elections, the annual report, the annual tax sale and council meeting dates.
Publishing notices to the public has had, and still does contain, much relevance in the work of municipal government, said Nelson deputy corporate officer Gabriel Bouvet-Boisclair.
“(W)e also do it because it connects us to our community. It provides us with an opportunity for people who want to know what is going on, what is happening and when it is happening, and it gives them an opportunity to be heard,” he said.
“So this is a very important part of local government, making sure the community has the ability to know what is going on, and that supports a fair and transparent local government.”
But the amendment — presented for information Tuesday night at the committee-of-the-whole meeting — allows a community to consider its own unique circumstances to determine the best way to reach the public, and recognizing that the rigidity of always requiring newspaper notices for consecutive weeks may be impractical.
A local government is free to explore ways in which it could maintain some newspaper advertising but under a different framework, said Bouvet-Boisclair, or it could also select two means of notice that does not include newspaper publication at all.
Adopting a public notice bylaw with two other means of notice would not prevent the local government from using newspaper notices through a policy.
“In essence, the changes to the legislation are creating a framework that allows local governments to consider what works in their community,” said Bouvet-Boisclair. “In that regard, there are reasons why the City of Nelson may want to consider a public notice bylaw that would not require newspaper notices.”
The city could save on advertising costs and staff time in coordinating publication if it chose a non-traditional route, he added, but some people rely on newspaper notices and they may not be served by avoiding print publication.
Under the amended section, a public notice bylaw, to be valid, must specify at least two means of publication by which required notices will be published.
According to the changes in the Community Charter, a council must consider the following principles regarding the means of notice:
• reliability: the publication methods are dependable and trustworthy;
• suitability: the publication methods work for the purpose for which the public notice is intended; and
• accessibility: the publication methods are easy to access and have broad reach.
Some acceptable means of notice could include:
• online or print newspaper;
• city website;
• city Facebook page;
• direct email or mail out; and
• posting at a community gather place.
“On the other hand, Twitter, non-government Facebook pages, and radio/TV would likely not satisfy the principles,” said Bouvet-Boisclair.
Source: City of Nelson agenda
Moving on and ahead
Coun. Keith Page felt that the newspaper industry still had some relevance for some time, but he didn’t think that it was going to be forever.
“To me, it is all about how well spent is this money and achieving the objectives of reaching the most number of people these notices are sent to,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Coun. Rik Logtenberg, who said local print newspapers like the Nelson Star hold city council accountable, but also need the revenue from the city from the notices to keep operating.
“And if we lost that we would be losing something that is essential to the community. So I think that the money that we spend with them on advertising is more than paid back in terms of the value they deliver indirectly to the corporation,” he said.
But he thought the print medium was antiquated and would rather see something targeted in addition to the print market.