At Monday's City Commission meeting, the body took under consideration Charter Ordinance Number 42-A, raising the potential for significant changes to how the City of Salina disseminates official notices.
Historically, cities have relied on print newspapers to communicate crucial information to their citizens, from legal notices to bond issuances. The state's K.S.A. 64-101 lays out the criteria a publication must meet to serve as an official city newspaper, ensuring the information reaches a broad and local audience.
Currently, the Salina Journal, a newspaper with roots tracing back to the Salina Evening Journal from 1903 and even earlier publications, holds that title. However, the recent rise of Salina311, a local paper that met the state’s criteria last year and won the Saline County notice bid, has transformed the landscape.
The proposed Charter Ordinance aims to free the city from the constraints of K.S.A. 64-101, potentially allowing it to use its website as its primary means for official notices. This move would not automatically dethrone the Salina Journal but would open the door for the city's website to become the official channel in the future.
Proponents argue the shift acknowledges the digital age, citing the internet as a predominant mode of communication. Yet, detractors, including Matt Moody, co-founder of Salina311, voice concerns over bypassing third-party mediums.
Moody said, "Nobody can argue that print newspaper is the best way to disseminate information. The internet is how the majority of us communicate today. But the majority isn't the maximum. To reach the maximum number of citizens in Salina, this information should be printed in physical form and published online with a third-party or third-parties."
Moody continued, "It sounds like their argument is that of saving money, but this is a small line item in their budget. Saline County moved their notices to Salina311 which cut their expense in half. This is really about controlling information, which is becoming commonplace for government theses days. You would be crazy to think that all the information they are required to publish, some which they may not want you to read, is going to be seen on the City's website. How often are you going to the City's website?"
A charter ordinance, which can override certain state laws if they aren't applied uniformly across cities, has been considered as a potential tool to make this change. Since K.S.A. 64-101 applies primarily to first-class cities, Salina has the legal grounds to adopt an alternate approach.
A counter movement is also gaining momentum. Petitions are in the works, advocating for a public vote on the matter.
While the adoption of this Charter Ordinance will have no tangible fiscal impact itself, it would potentially allow for savings in notice publications in the future if the City website were to become the Official City Newspaper.
The following is the breakdown of costs for notice publication in the Salina Journal:
2023 (through June 27th): $18,400
(Salina311 won the bid for Saline County notices in July, cutting the county's notice expenses in half).
While the commission gave a unanimous initial nod (5-0) to Charter Ordinance 42, the debate underscores the tension between tradition and modernity, trust in government, transparency, and the evolving dynamics of information access in the 21st century.
(Disclaimer: Reporting on this story is by staff of Salina311.com and the Salina311 Newspaper).