Legal Notices a vital window

Each week, in the pages of The Leader-Union, we strive to keep you informed about the news of Fayette County.
We have news accounts from the meetings of public bodies, like the city council, the county board and the school board. We have police and court reports. We have social news,  like weddings, engagements and births. We have obituaries. We have school news, including notable activities, menus and honor rolls for our area districts. We have sports reports from a half dozen school districts. We have an opinion page, a business page, a church page and a public record page that lists arrests made by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department and the Vandalia Police Department.
And the list goes on.
But if you really want to know what’s going on behind the scenes in our area, there’s another part of the paper you need to be reading – the Legal Notices. Under that heading – sometimes called Public Notices – you’ll find all types of interesting information about legal activities, such as estate claim notices when someone dies, assumed name notices for new businesses, financial condition reports and budgets from government entities such as municipalities and school districts, zoning changes, meeting notices, foreclosure sale notices, dissolution of marriage notices and upcoming election notices, just to name a few.
It’s a fascinating way to keep up with legal activities that otherwise wouldn’t be easily accessible to the public. And that’s the whole purpose behind Legal Notices. Those items are required by law to be published because it’s important that we DO have access to the information.
For decades, it’s been required that those notices be published in newspapers, so all citizens can have easy and economical access to the information. As websites have been introduced in recent years, however, the state has begun discussing the possibility of putting those notices on a statewide website rather than in newspapers.
The state’s newspapers objected to the idea of a state-run website because such a site wouldn’t achieve the longstanding goal of public notices: getting the information out to all citizens on all economic levels. Not all citizens – particularly the poor and the elderly – have access to a computer (or the knowledge of how to operate one) if a website were the only place the notices were listed.
Beginning this year, the Illinois Press Association, in cooperation with its 500 member newspapers in the state, launched a website (www.PublicNoticeIllinois.com) that provides a location where Legal Notices from all the state’s newspapers are displayed – but only AFTER they are published in the local newspaper. This preserves easy and economical access for all citizens (in the paper) and also gives a modern website that is searchable by municipality, newspaper or key words for those that want the convenience of such a site.
It’s the best of both worlds.
Legal Notices are a critical aspect of maintaining openness and accountability in our government. They also are fascinating reading.
As Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Illinois Press Assocation, said recently: “Every Public Notice is like a window into the workings of government. This website opens a new window and lets even more light in. A true democracy depends on such transparency. The Public Notice website is an important tool for citizen access to this important information.”
Well said. Take a look at the site. And keep on reading the notices in each issue of The Leader-Union.
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