When was the last time you looked at a government website? If you’re anything like me, you were probably looking for something specific and not perusing what a county or state website has behind its many links.
A new bill, which will soon be reviewed by the House of Representatives, aims to eliminate the newspaper publication of sheriff’s sales, which consists of mortgage foreclosures, and instead place that list on government websites.
State statute currently says, “Before selling mortgaged property, the sheriff must advertise the sale by publication once each week for three successive weeks in a daily or weekly newspaper of general circulation. The sheriff shall publish the advertisement in at least one newspaper published and circulated in each county where the real estate is situated. The first publication shall be made at least thirty (30) days before the date of sale. At the time of placing the first advertisement by publication, the sheriff shall also serve a copy of the written or printed notice of sale upon each owner of the real estate. Service of the written notice shall be made as provided in the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure governing service of process upon a person.”
As proposed by author Rep. Wendy McNamara, House Bill 1212 would amend the statute to eliminate the publication in the newspaper and place the sales on the county website or the sheriff’s office website, at the discretion of the sheriff.
Newspaper legal notices -- not just the sheriff’s sales -- are important for several reasons, with the most important being transparency. Government entities are required to run legal notices when selling properties, acquiring properties, spending money and bringing in money (grants, for instance). The legal notices allow for the public to see every move their government is making.
I’m sure some people are thinking, “Well, many people don’t read the newspaper/legal notices, so that doesn’t necessarily apply.”
But, think of it this way: even if you never read the newspaper, surely someone you know does. If your friend reads the paper and notices that your elderly grandma’s home is being sold due to foreclosure, I’m sure you would be the first phone call they make. Would you foresee the same outcome if it was listed on a county government website?
Continuing on that transparency theme, publication of legal advertisements in a newspaper allow for a third party to place the information with no personal stake in those dollars spent or properties sold.
I believe here in Greene County, we have some good people running our government who would never hide important information from their constituents for personal gain, but what about other counties who are not as lucky? As much as we try to see the good in people, news stories across the state and country continue to bring to light individuals who did not have their constituents or organization’s best interests at heart.
There have been accusations from legislators that the only reason a newspaper would care is that it undercuts their budget. But, it’s important to note this essential information has to be published for public consumption. By placing the information in our newspaper, we have to compensate for the column inches being taken up in the newspaper.
Hoosier State Press Association Attorney Steve Key recently noted a concern about being charged too much to up their revenue. While HSPA has pledged to reach out to those organizations, the Greene County Daily World charges the minimum price mandated by the state.
This statute is just one of many in recent years that have tried to pull legal notices from newspapers and the public’s eye. Could this potentially be the first step in removing necessary information that our residents have the right to see? They are OUR tax dollars after all.
Sabrina is the editor of the Greene County Daily World. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.