Also seeks to cut costs of paid legal-notice advertising
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Philipstown Town Board broke with tradition last Thursday night (Jan. 9) and declined to designate an “official town newspaper,” instead declaring its intent to continue placing notices in The Putnam County News & Recorder while likewise disseminating them via Philipstown.info and perhaps other outlets.
In previous years, the board had bestowed the “official newspaper” title on the PCNR and the Philipstown Recreation Department Winter 2013-2014 guide tells residents that department news appears weekly in the PCNR, “the officially designated newspaper of Philipstown and Putnam County.”
The Town Board revealed its latest stance during its annual reorganization, when it typically selects a law firm, auditors, and bank to handle town government needs; appoints employees to specific jobs, and sets everything from a mileage-compensation rate to its schedule of holidays.
Under New York State law, a municipal government must publish certain official or “legal” notices in a newspaper with a paid circulation (one whose readers pay to receive it), such as the PCNR. Newspapers like Philipstown.info’s The Paper do not meet that criterion.
The Town Board drew a distinction between sending paid legal/governmental notices to a paid-circulation newspaper and recognizing a newspaper as “official” or the “newspaper of record.”
Refusal to single out the PCNR follows public criticism by Town Board members last November of PCNR treatment of local issues and those who serve as elected or volunteer members of municipal boards.
The issue arose Thursday when the board decided to set aside a draft resolution that stated the board “hereby designates The Putnam County News & Recorder as the official town newspaper.”
“We will not be designating a paper,” Supervisor Richard Shea announced.
As he subsequently observed, “every year we do this as sort of a rote thing,” without exploring the underlying rationale.
“We are not obligated to appoint an official paper. We’re obligated to publish legal notices in the paper that has the required distribution, by law,” Nancy Montgomery explained.
“Right,” Shea concurred. “And as such, that’s what we’ll be doing.”
“We’re just not naming a paper; but we will still be using the PCNR for notifications,” Councilor John Van Tassel summarized.
“That is correct,” Shea replied. “We are compelled to use the PCNR as the paper we advertise official things of record in.”
Montgomery clarified further. “We’re not choosing not to advertise,” she said. “We’re choosing not to appoint an official paper.” However, “in addition to submitting notices to the PCNR, I recommend that in the effort to get as much information out to the public as possible, we duplicate that to Philipstown.info. So the information is getting to as many media outlets as possible [and] nobody’s an official paper.”
Along with not designating an official paper, Shea said they might save money by determining “what we are legally required to advertise. We want to get information out, obviously,” he said. “But as for paid advertising – things we are bound legally to advertise – if there are ways of doing it at no cost, that’s the way we would do it.”
After withdrawing the draft resolution, the board continued with other appointments during the reorganization session. Later, though, in the formal monthly meeting that followed, it returned to the topic of an official newspaper.
“I don’t have an issue with that,” Shea responded. “But I think if we’re doing a real legal notice, we’re going to have to do a resolution to advertise [it]. We would do it” – name both news organizations as recipients – “at that time.”
Van Tassel suggested that they could include other sources or news media as well.
Shea concurred, while observing that the world now turns more and more to electronic means of disseminating information. Until that option becomes available for legal notices in New York, however, “we need to rely on both newspapers,” he said. “But as far as saying we’re going to favor one over the other – tonight we’re not going there.”
Two days before the Town Board move, the Putnam County Legislature voted unanimously to make the PCNR, its sister paper The Putnam County Courier, and another weekly, the Putnam County Press, each “an official newspaper” for the county. (In 2011, the legislature picked the PCNR and the Putnam County Press as official newspapers but passed over the Courier, prompting a legal challenge by Elizabeth Ailes, publisher of the Courier and PCNR.)