Kernersville News Editorial

“Unjustified seizure of newspaper assets”
A recent bill being debated in the North Carolina General Assembly is rightfully causing some buyer’s remorse for numerous voters that helped give the Republicans the majority in the state House and Senate. Support for this bill from some Forsyth County representatives should also cause local citizens to question the motives of some our elected officials.

The bill in question, Senate Bill 343 (SB 343), essentially goes against one of the major tenets of the Republican party. Senate Bill 343 was sponsored by N.C. Senator Trudy Wade (R-Guilford), who apparently has a huge axe to grind with newspapers. The bill, which passed in the Senate by a 30-19 vote last month, would allow municipal and county governments to publish required public notices on their own websites instead of in newspapers. Some of these public notices include details about public hearings for new developments and opportunities for people to bid on government contracts. The bill would, more importantly for newspapers, allow local governments to host other people’s legal notices on their websites and charge attorneys and others for legally required announcements, such as foreclosures, seized property and other proceedings.

This aspect of the bill would effectively steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual newspapers, which would seriously jeopardize the very existence of three local newspapers, Kernersville News, Clemmons Courier and Winston-Salem Chronicle. Large papers such as the Winston-Salem Journal and Greensboro News & Record, which are owned by a liberal multi-billionaire could probably weather this storm, but smaller papers likely cannot.

The bill, which has been questioned constitutionally by some qualified experts, would make Buncombe, Durham, Forsyth and Guilford counties the pilot programs. Given Wade’s fanatical support of the bill it is easy to understand why Guilford County was chosen to be part of the pilot program. Why Forsyth County was chosen is open to question, although we have our own ideas of which government official or officials may have pushed for Forsyth County to be one of the four counties in the pilot program.

The motivation for supporters of this bill, which unfortunately includes a large number of Republicans in the NCGA, appears to be to steal money from newspapers and eliminate the numerous decades old practice of allowing newspapers to keep the public aware of the information published in legal notices and public notices.

The argument, which doesn’t hold water, from some supporters of this bill is that it will save the counties money. The fact that the money saved would be an absolute drop in a very big bucket, compared to county budgets and the state budget, makes it clear that the primary motivation for the bill is not to save North Carolinians money. Forsyth County’s budget for the fiscal year is $425, 405,900. The state budget that was passed by the NC Senate on Tuesday is $23.03 billion. When the previous version of Senate Bill 343 was discussed three years ago, former Forsyth County Commissioner Mark Baker said the money the county would save if the bill was passed was too inconsequential compared to the whole budget to even consider.

We believe the real motivation for those who support SB 343 is to destroy newspapers, and some representatives have told us this directly. A secondary motivation could be that the bill would also allow state and local governments to keep what they are doing more secret, which goes against the very grain of everything American.

As noted by the North Carolina Press Association, “As many of one-third of North Carolinians don’t have internet access, can’t afford it, and would not visit a government website even if they had it.” Tammy Dunn, the publisher of the Montgomery Herald, stated that “it is somewhat ludicrous to suggest that people would check a government website each week to look at notices.” Others have also noted why it is crucial and traditional for legal and public notices to be published in newspapers, rather than in sparsely visited government websites. Moreover, most North Carolina newspapers, including the Kernersville News, publish all legal notices online at no extra charge.

“The spirit of the law is for government notices to be in front of the public. Even though it is a revenue source for newspaper, the issue here isn’t that. The issue is the public’s right to know,” stated Paul Mauney, the group publisher for The Dispatch, The Times News in Burlington and The Courier-Tribune in Asheboro.

We have talked to numerous local government officials about where they stand on SB 343, and believe it is important for our readers to know where they stand on the public’s right to know. Forsyth County Commissioner Chairman Dave Plyler does not support the bill, as does Forsyth County Commissioner Vice Chairman Dr. Don Martin.

“I am certainly not in favor of having Forsyth County in a pilot program and having the county become a legal advertising service,” Martin said.

Forsyth County Commissioner Ted Kaplan is against the bill. We were very happy to learn on Thursday that NC Representative Debra Conrad (R-Forsyth) is working with her counterpart North Carolina Representative Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) to defeat SB343. Forsyth County Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt seemed adamant that there was a lot of momentum for the bill in the NCGA. NC Representative Paul A Lowe Jr. (D-Forsyth) voted against the bill. NC Rep Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth, Yadkin), who lives in Kernersville, is vehemently against the bill

“I opposed it and voted against it (before). Particularly seniors depend upon their daily newspapers. I believe large segments of our population will not be able to obtain the necessary information. Many rural areas as well as seniors and others in urban areas, do not have access to the internet. They will have no means of obtaining information,” Krawiec stated.

We urge our readers to contact their NCGA representatives and Forsyth County commissioners to discuss the NCGA’s obvious attempt to destroy newspapers and seize their substantial financial assets. Listed below is contact information for your local government representatives. Please call them.

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