May 25th, 2024

City council voting on print media bylaw change today

By Tim Kalinowski on January 26, 2021.


City council will vote on bylaw change during today’s meeting which could have severe repercussions for the viability of the Lethbridge Herald newspaper going into an uncertain year in 2021, and which could leave local seniors, in particular, disenfranchised from full, transparent public engagement with city council and the City of Lethbridge.
Under the Municipal Government Act, the City is required to advertise by designated print media to ensure all citizens in the community have access to important information regardless of their digital literacy or access. The Herald is the only designated media which can meet the requirements of the MGA in Lethbridge.
The proposed bylaw change will reduce the size of the public notice ads which must appear in the newspaper, and will include less detailed information for readers on proposed developments within the city.
On Jan. 12, city council held a second public hearing on the proposed bylaw change after many Herald readers and various community partners spoke out in support of their local newspaper, and after the previous public hearing held in November revealed new information as to how the City has been subsidizing developers using taxpayer money to pay for the ads.
City staff revealed the only reason there is any cost to the City at all for the newspaper ads is because staff had been using $400 in taxpayer money to supplement the advertising costs per ad, costs which, under the MGA, are required to be borne by the developer and not the municipality.
Council was told in November the savings to the City would be approximately $99,000 per year, but learned during the public hearing of Jan. 12 this was only a projected savings based on what staff think they might be able to save under the current ad rate by reducing the ad size overall.
Under questioning from Mayor Chris Spearman, and in light of information provided by Lethbridge Herald publisher Brian Hancock during the public hearing, city staff admitted they hoped to save about $88,000 to the City by reducing the ad size as it currently costs under the current ad rate, despite the fact the City only spent $79,000 on such ads with The Herald from Nov. 2019 to Nov. 2020.
And further, that these projections were not made in consultation with the Lethbridge Herald at all, and they had not asked how the newspaper might adjust its rates in the future in light of this bylaw decision by city council.
After the public hearing on Jan. 12, Herald publisher Brian Hancock went back and reviewed the actual cost of the advertising the City spent in 2020 alone on public notices. He reports that number is actually $68,635.
City staff also did not answer criticisms in their presentation to council as to how local seniors and others without digital access would access the more in depth information they now propose to put online. At the previous public hearing in November, staff had stated, in the midst of pandemic, those needing a paper copy could simply come down to city hall to have one printed off.

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