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Online Lien-Sale Notifications: Whose Onus Is It?

An editorial in The Oshkosh Northwestern today bemoans the fact that new legislation may allow self-storage lien sales in the state of Wisconsin to be publicized online rather than in a print newspaper. Assembly Bill 707 is one of four bills moving through the state legislature that will change Wisconsins public-notice laws, and author Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and a director of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, is none too thrilled about it.

An editorial in The Oshkosh Northwestern today bemoans the fact that new legislation may allow self-storage lien sales in the state of Wisconsin to be publicized in places other than a print newspaper, including the Internet. Assembly Bill 707 is one of four bills moving through the state legislature that will change Wisconsin’s public-notice laws, and author Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and a director of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, is none too thrilled about it.

Fox, who spent more than 24 years in weekly and daily newspapers and also served a decade in state government, claims the proposed laws “would reverse the historic duty of government to keep citizens informed of what it is doing,” shifting the responsibility of public information from government entities to public citizens. He says people will now need to “track down” information, when it should instead be fed to them; the government has a responsibility to feed it.
 
The other three bills in question―Senate Bills 276 and 541 and Assembly Bill 546―relate to providing notice for public meetings and the court-ordered sale of personal goods or property to satisfy a judgment. Each, if passed, would eliminate at least one physical posting of a public notice. For self-storage operators, it would relinquish the necessity of publicizing lien sales in a print newspaper more than once. Those sales could alternatively be published online, for example, on the website of the Wisconsin Self Storage Association. Fox refers to this last fact as “incredulous.”

(For those of you who'd like a bit more info regarding AB707, here's a link to a press release that ran earlier this month: Bill Improving Self-Storage Lien Law Makes Progress in Wisconsin.)

Fox's position is that a government website should not serve as a substitute for an established public notice, and "fundamental change" should not be enacted to create convenience for the self-storage facility owner. But what about convenience for the consumer? Does not the Internet create this also? Why should one assume the transition to the Internet for public notices creates hassle and unecessary burden for the general public?

The Fox rebuttal to those questions, based on his editorial, might be that while a website is available to anyone who has a computer, the information it contains is not "pushed out" to the public. He says those sites do not notify anyone. He is assuming, of course, that the website in question doesn't offer an e-mail update or newsletter or other subsription-based option for receiving notifications. In my experience, most websites do offer some sort of information feed to which a user can subscribe.

In addition, newspapers are pushed out only to subscribers, not the public at large. Access to the Web is free, while newspaper subscriptions generally are not. To me, the Internet makes public notices more accessible, not less. This does not even take into consideration the sheer number of people who prefer to get their news online, which is steadily climbing.

So let me hear your thoughts on this. From a storage operator's perspective, the elimination of the newspaper-notice requirement is a real boon, as it eliminates expense. But from your viewpoint as a public citizen, do you feel it's the government's responsibility to provide public notices via various print and physical media, or is the Web sufficient for these things? Does the average citizen have a responsibility to seek out public notices and remain informed?

Those of you who have the option of publicizing lien sales online ... how has this worked for you? Have you had complaints from delinquent customers or auction seekers about the delivery of notification? Post your comments here on the blog or join the discussion over at Self-Storage Talk:

Lien-Sale Notification: Debate About Online

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