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Amendment to 'Community Charter' opens doors to publishing split

City council voted in favour of advertising the city’s notices once in the newspaper and also to be posted on a public notice landing page on the city’s website.

Peter and Paul will both be paid in the city’s new policy on how to publish required notices to the public.

City council voted in favour of advertising the city’s notices once in the newspaper and also to be posted on a public notice landing page on the city’s website. The move differs from previous practice of solely advertising the notices solely in the newspaper (print) for two consecutive weeks.

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 previously spent 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 when he first gave his report on the matter to city council.

“(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 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.

The city will 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.

The qualifier

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.