Lawyer for Casper Star-Tribune, WPA Threatens Lawsuit Against Mills for Legal Advice

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Mills Town Council (Gregory Hirst, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. – In a letter sent to Mills Mayor Seth Coleman on June 30, attorney Bruce Moats said the recent decision by Mills city council to exempt the town from the requirement to publish legal opinions in newspapers under of Wyoming’s Title 15 statutes is illegal.

Moats said in the letter on behalf of the Casper Star Tribune and the Wyoming Press Association that “[a] the municipality cannot exempt itself from the “statutes uniformly applicable to all towns and villages” “under the” domicile rule “provision. The letter was shared with Oil City News by staff at the Town of Mills.

The councils of Mills and Bar Nunn both rely on the autonomy provision in their recently passed resolutions exempting their respective municipal governments from laws “requiring municipalities to provide notices of action, hearings and information. through legal opinions or newspaper publications, “according to Mills and Bar lawyer Nunn Pat Holscher.

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This amendment to the rules of procedure states that “towns and villages are hereby empowered to determine their local affairs and government as established by an ordinance adopted by the governing body”, subject to a “legislative referendum” .

Holscher, Coleman and Bar Nunn Mayor Patrick Ford all told Oil City News the move to exempt municipalities from the legal notice requirement was a cost saving measure.

“We are doing it to cut costs,” Ford said in June. “We don’t want to spend $ 700 advertising a giant bid for a construction project in the newspaper when the same information can be put on our website for free. “

“We will always be advertising. We go beyond… Everything the city does is on every bulletin board, it’s on our sign at the fire station, it’s on our Facebook, it’s on our website, it’s in our monthly newsletters.

Casper City Council member Kyle Gamroth said at a July 6 council meeting that he believes the town of Casper should consider doing something similar, as the town pays around $ 70,000 per year to publish legal opinions in physical journals.

Casper’s new budget authorizes a total of $ 147,046,429 in spending in fiscal year 2021-2022, which began July 1. If Casper were to spend $ 70,000 on the publication of legal opinions this year, it would be less than 0.01% of the expenditure for the year.

While Gamroth said he thinks Casper should consider eliminating the legal advice requirement, he also said he thinks there are good points in a Casper Star-Tribune editorial in response. to the actions of Mills and Bar Nunn who argued that removing this requirement could decrease local government transparency.

Moats said in the letter to Coleman that the passage of the ordinance exempting the town of Mills from the publication requirements of legal notices exposes the city “to a risk of legal challenge to the actions it has taken when the notices are posted. rather than published in a newspaper. “

Moats said if Mills doesn’t reverse the order they passed by July 16, “my clients will have no choice but to consider legal action.”

Oil City contacted Moats, the publisher of the Casper Star-Tribune and the Wyoming Press Association for comment on the matter, but had not received responses as of 10:20 a.m. on Thursday, July 15. Updates will be provided if more information is available. .

Holscher said in a letter in response to Moats on behalf of Mills and Bar Nunn that none of the municipalities had passed respective ordinances “to punish or be unfavorable in any way to the Casper Star Tribune or to any other Wyoming Press Association newspaper ”.

“We are sure we can all agree that the purpose of the notification requirements is to most effectively notify the public of various government actions,” Holscher wrote, adding that Mills and Bar Nunn want to achieve that goal “in the most effective way. profitable possible “. way.”

Holscher said that “the evolution of technology”, which also allows the publication of legal opinions online, “has stopped making the newspaper the most efficient way to do it.”

He said the Casper Star-Tribune has occasionally faced delivery delays during winter snowstorms, with the paper printed at Adams Publishing Group in Cheyenne.

“If the laws require that a legal opinion be published in a newspaper circulating in a county, but the newspaper just doesn’t arrive in the county at all, is the law really being followed? Holscher wrote.

He said the Star-Tribune did not regularly send a reporter to cover the Mills and Bar Nunn council meetings. Holscher said municipalities do not want to criticize the Star-Tribune, acknowledging that the challenges the newspaper may face are part of the upheaval in newspaper printing across the country.

Holscher also said the resolutions passed by Mills and Bar Nunn do not require cities to use other means of publishing legal opinions rather than publishing in a newspaper, but “simply allow it.”

“It would appear to us that arguing your path towards continued use of a declining means of giving notice is a poor way to ensure its continued viability,” Holscher wrote.

Holscher asked Moats, the Casper Star-Tribune, or the Wyoming Press Association to come up with “constructive provisions” that would help make legal opinions widely available to people in a cost-effective manner.

He argued that with more and more information being disseminated online, people might be less willing to pay for newspaper subscriptions.

While readers may be frustrated with pay walls or having to pay for subscriptions at some media sites, subscription-based models have some potential advantages.

“A subscription model provides a constant revenue stream that is not dependent on [website] traffic, ”said Brian Moritz, assistant professor at SUNY-Oswego, in an article for NiemanLab in 2019.“ In theory, it spurs better stories because posts don’t have to chase clicks.

Moritz said the subscription models offer an “implied promise … that you get something worth paying for, something you can’t get anywhere else.”

“The problem for newspapers is the idea of ​​giving people something they to have have, ”added Moritz. “Newspapers are mass media, which means they have to reach a large audience. “

He said that if people are asked to pay for subscriptions for multiple services, they will ultimately be unable or unwilling to pay.

“Ultimately, consumers’ subscription budgets hit a wall,” he wrote. “We can’t assume that people will subscribe to everything. You can’t expect people to subscribe to their local newspaper (which is vital for democracy, we tell them) AND the New York Times AND the Washington Post (because Democracy Dies in the Dark) AND Netflix AND Hulu AND HBO Go AND The Athletic AND ESPN Plus AND their favorite podcast on Patreon AND… ”

Many media sources rely on blended revenue models that rely on both subscription and ad revenue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, “local publishers had more news than ever to cover, with much less local advertising support,” according to the Knight Foundation.

“How did they survive and prosper during such a difficult year? Mark Glaser of the Knight Foundation wrote in December 2020. “They made lemonade from pandemic lemons. “

“Some publishers have been successful in leveraging their increased COVID-19 coverage – often available for free outside of paid walls – to sell more subscriptions. For-profit publishers, with help from the Local Media Association and Report for America, were able to receive donations from readers, while nonprofit publishers sought to increase revenue generated from sponsorships and events by line. Startups run by various groups, who often struggle to secure support and funding, led the charge as new members of local independent online news editors (LIONs) and the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN ). (NOTE: Oil City News is a member of LION Publishers.)

Moats said in his June 30 letter that the Wyoming Press Association website publishes legal opinions online in newspapers statewide. He also said the newspapers’ own websites are “generally visited much more often than government websites.”

Moats also said the Wyoming Supreme Court had rejected multiple attempts by municipalities to exempt themselves from laws “uniformly applicable” to municipalities statewide.

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