September 29, 2023 8:00am

Publishing legal notices

Mixed reviews from Power Poll influencers

Photo of Joe Capozzi
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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The Palm Beach County Commission's recent decision to publish legal notices on the county’s website, instead of a paid advertisement in the local newspaper, got mixed reviews from Palm Beach Power Poll influencers.

The commission voted 4-2 on Sept. 12 to take advantage of a new state law that allows legal notices to be placed on the county website, saving taxpayer dollars that traditionally had been spent on newspaper ads. The county website will also be made available to notices posted by municipalities.

Four commissioners who supported the change said the county will save $230,000 a year in money paid advertisements in The Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News, which the county for decades has used to inform the public about notices such as changes in zoning laws and contracts that are placed out to bid.

The two county commissioners who voted against the measure said it’s important for public transparency to publish legal ads through an independent third party — a newspaper.

A little more than half of Power Poll Palm Beach influencers who responded to this month's poll agreed with the commission’s decision while 39 percent disagreed.

Asked how they think the change will affect the public’s access to the legal notices, 44 percent of Power Poll influencers said it will offer benefits but also potential issues. While agreeing that the county website may be a convenient place to post the notices, those influencers were also troubled by the loss of newspapers providing important third-party transparency.

“As an attorney practicing development and land-use law for 40 years I have learned it is imperative to provide written notice of development proposals and local legislative actions in a publication of general circulation, such as the newspaper,’’ said Palm Beach Gardens influencer Steve Mathison, chairman of the PGA Corridor Association.

“This transparency promotes public participation and trust in our governmental institutions. It is one of the vital services newspapers provide to local residents and stakeholders,’’ he said.

Thirty-three percent said the change will improve the public’s access, and 15 percent said it will hurt public access. The poll had a response rate of 23 percent.

As for the motivations behind the state law that gave counties the option to bypass newspapers and use their county websites, Power Poll influencers were nearly split.

Forty-two percent said the state is simply looking out for the best interests of taxpayers by taking advantage of technology to make it easier and cheaper for the public to see the notices.

But 41 percent said the new law was approved for one purpose — to hurt newspapers, which sometimes publish stories and editorials critical of the current Republican leadership in Florida. That contention was supported in comments by one Power Poll influencer.

“Normally I'm a strong First Amendment guy. But this is special. The Palm Beach Post has worked so hard at insulting and dismissing all things Republican. Therefore, no Republicans subscribe,’’ said Sid Dinerstein, former Republican Party of Palm Beach County chairman.

‘‘The paltry remaining readers are far Left Dems looking for more Republican bashing. Time is up,’’ Dinerstein said. “No longer do we Republicans have any interest in publicly funding Dem organs. As we say here in Palm Beach County: Karma. It's a beach!’’

Many influencers said the commission should have voted to use both the county website and local newspapers to publish the ads.

“Another warning of the demise of local news,’’ said Rebel Cook, a commercial real estate broker. “The ability to get any info quickly and efficiently from the county is a challenge already and will add another level of frustration.’’

We also tossed in a question about an unrelated but relevant topic. And 57 percent said they think there will be a federal government shutdown by Oct. 2, while 43 percent are optimistic there won’t be a shutdown. Use the chart below to view results of the same question from a few of our other Power Poll markets.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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