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Charter Commission: No need for paper publication of ordinances

November 16, 2018

Rochester’s Charter Commission is recommending an end to the required newspaper publication of new city ordinances.

On Tuesday, the commission unanimously approved proposing a change to Rochester’s home-rule charter, which would allow ordinance changes to be published on the city’s website, rather than in it’s official designated newspaper, which is the Post Bulletin.

Closely mirroring a section of the Duluth charter, the proposed local charter change would trump state statute that requires newspaper publication of ordinances after they are approved by the council.

While they ended up supporting the recommendation, some commission members noted digital publication would upend the current ability to search newspaper archives to verify publication.

“At least the library reportedly has back issues of the paper going back to the beginning of time,” commission member Fred Suhler, noting websites can be updated and information can be lost.

State Sen. Dave Senjem, who is also a commission member, expressed a similar concern about being able to access the historic record.

“I like that kind of stuff, but I don’t know if it’s important,” he said.

Commission member Bob Haeussinger pointed out that a record of filing an ordinance change would remain on record.

“The official record still belongs with the city’s records, not the fact that the paper has published it,” he said. “It just so happened that they published it, but that isn’t the binding document.”

Deputy City Attorney Dave Goslee said all related documents are maintained in a digital format separate from the city’s website.

“I’m sure we’ve stored every one ever adopted,” he said, when asked about the city’s practice of storing records of ordinance revisions.

Commission member Marcia Marcoux pointed out the topic of preservation wasn’t directly related to the publication discussion.

“I think we have ventured into something beyond where we are, but not necessarily something that is bad to talk about,” she said.

With the proposed charter change, the Rochester City Council would maintain the option to publish new ordinances and revisions in the newspaper on a case-by-case basis.

The charter’s current publication requirement has cost the city nearly $4,300 so far this year, at an average cost of nearly $270 per ordinance. Last year, the city paid $13,202 to publish ordinances, and the bill was $9,692 in 2016.

Prior to the Charter Commission discussion, Post Bulletin Assistant Advertising Director Sue Lovejoy cited a survey conducted for the city council earlier this year, which indicated 31 percent of respondents said the newspaper was their preferred source of communication, opposed to 26 percent that referenced the city’s website. The same survey revealed 40 percent of the participants cited the website as a primary source of city information, followed by the newspaper at 38 percent.

With the Charter Commission’s recommendation for a change, Goslee said he will request the city council hold a Jan. 7 public hearing.

Unanimous support is required for the council to approve the charter change. Without a unanimous council vote, the Charter Commission could seek a referendum.

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