By Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director

Dennis HetzelA bill that would allow sheriff’s sale public notices to only be displayed on government websites is inching forward in the Ohio Senate.

Senate Bill 234 had its first hearing this week. As is typical at first hearings, only sponsor testimony was heard, and that is Sen. William Coley, R-Butler County.

In essence, the bill gives county officials the option to only put these important notices on their websites. While I had a good conversation recently with Sen. Coley, his testimony showed he hasn’t moved from his belief that no one is reading these notices in newspapers and attending these sales.

We know this isn’t true in two ways. We know this isn’t true anecdotally. You’ve seen people at sheriff’s sales holding notices they have clipped from newspapers. And we know this isn’t true based on scientific research we did in Ohio as recently as last May that showed that Ohio citizens want and expect notices to be in newspapers.

If more people bid on these properties, that’s good for everyone, including neighborhoods, banks and local government through increased assessed value. I understand that the mortgage-holders ultimately pay for these notices, but the cost of these notices is only a very small part of the foreclosure mess our country and our state is in.

What is most annoying is that the ink — be it real or virtual — isn’t even dry on significant public notice reform in the state budget bill. Already lawmakers are sacrificing public awareness to the altar of pound-foolish cost savings. I have been explaining to business groups such as the Ohio bankers and Chamber of Commerce that the recently enacted reform includes major savings in notice costs for sheriff’s sales if the new Internet option is chosen for second and third notice requirements. How about letting the new law work? (Here’s a link to our detailed FAQ on the new law).

Sen. Coley also believes that the only purpose in the public notice requirement for these sales is to inform those who might want to bid on the property. This is wrong.

There is a reason public notices are “public.” You don’t have to go to a sheriff’s sales to want and need to be informed about whether there are homes in your community and your neighborhood that are in foreclosure. It’s just as true that you don’t have to go to the school board meeting or be an asphalt bidder to need to know that there’s a meeting coming up or that your township is seeking bids.

Sen. Coley added that he has never read such ads when he sees them in the Pulse Journal weekly newspaper in his district. That’s up to him, but our research paints a far different picture about readership than basing policy on the survey-of-one.

Beyond the obvious importance of these notices to the public, this bill could have a devastating impact on some ONA members dealing with revenue challenges already. While everyone wishes revenue was coming from regular real estate advertising instead of foreclosure notices, that isn’t the case. We should expect lawmakers to fight legislation that could damage local businesses.

Here is a link to our “talking points” document that goes into specific reasons why this bill would be very bad law. I urge ONA members to contact Sen. Coley with your views about this legislation. He can be reached at SD04@senate.state.oh.us or Senate Building, 1 Capitol Square, Ground Floor, Columbus, 43215. Phone: 614-466-8072.

Meanwhile, the bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here’s a link to the committee members. Please take time to contact them, particularly if you live in the district of a member. We do have a meeting scheduled with the chair, Sen. Mark Wagoner.

Be assured we are staying on top of this. But your voices are more important than mine.

ONA amendment creates ‘log’ of fraud complaints

We have been working since March with Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Clark County, and Auditor General David Yost’s staff on an interesting piece of legislation, House Bill 66, that creates a system for public employees to report incidents of possible fraud and abuse.

That’s the kind of good government bill most editorial pages should support. However, we had a concern that the process wasn’t transparent enough. It’s important for reporters to have at least general knowledge of what is being investigated. Otherwise, it is too easy for matters to get swept under political rugs. Yes, it could happen in Ohio.

We proposed a concept similar to the old police blotter, in which the police provide basic information about incident reports. This helps inform the public without jeopardizing ongoing investigations. Indeed, public knowledge at the start of cases often brings more evidence to light.

As of this writing, we have agreement on an amendment that would create just such a log of whistleblower complaints to the auditor general’s office. It’s our goal to see the bill pass the Senate with this amendment and eventually become law.

There are several other bills we are tracking or awaiting, particularly the ones we know are coming on Jobs Ohio and “enterprise” universities for possible impact on open records and open meetings laws. ONA members can see our complete Legislative Watch List by clicking here.

Links that caught my eye

Patch claims big boost: Patch.com, which operates a number of sites in the Cleveland area, claims local election coverage gave it a big boost. However, parent AOL won’t release specific numbers.

A look into the future: Not many accurately predicted what would happen to our industry in 1981. Still, consultant and blogger Steve Outing takes a shot at looking at online news 20 years from now. If nothing else, this article will get you thinking about directions you should be exploring. Meanwhile, blogger Felix Salmon does a similar turn with a piece on the future of online advertising.

More on the future: This New York Times piece on Journal Register CEO John Paton’s views on digital-first was flying all over the Internet earlier this week.

And back to the future: If you have the time, I highly recommend this Columbia Journalism Review piece on how the San Jose Mercury News once was the center of the digital news universe (Remember all the buzz about “Mercury Center”?) and then lost its way. There are many good lessons here in the difficulty of defining and sustaining a vision.

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One Response to Speak out to keep sheriff’s sales in newspapers

  1. Paula Oman says:

    As a citizen of Ohio for coming up on 64 years, I am appalled that it is being considered not publishing Sheriff’s auctions in the paper. Not everyone has access to a computer, nor has the inclination to go the websites that are quite
    frankly bothersome. The internet has not always produced public faith, quite the
    contrary. Our newspapers have been a reliable source of news and are responsible for gettingTRUTH out, the internet, not so much truth. Please DO NOT allow these publications to be altered. Thanks so much, Paula Oman