Alachua County moves public notices to website 

BOCC Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler speaks at a past Alachua County meeting.
BOCC Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler speaks at a past Alachua County meeting.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Alachua County has transitioned all its public notices onto its website, breaking a decades-long practice of publishing them in the Gainesville Sun.  

The county announced the switch on Good Friday, March 29, and the new webpage will also feature public notices from the tax collector, town of Micanopy and Children’s Trust of Alachua County, moving those entities out of print as well. 

The move follows a decision by the Board of County Commissioners last September that took advantage of a new state law the Legislature passed in 2022. The staff presentation cited cost savings and increased accessibility.  

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In the past, counties would publish the public notices in newspapers that met certain state requirements, allowing citizens to find the information in print, on the newspaper website, at and often on the county website as well.  

Now, the notices will only be online at the county website. The law requires counties to provide email and print mail delivery of the public notices for citizens who sign up. 

Public notices inform citizens of upcoming county meetings, plans to change zoning or land use on properties, property tax changes and more. 

An email option is available on the county website, requiring the use of a calendar tool to import the county notices. The public notices then appear on your calendar. 

Tommy Crosby, assistant county manager, said the county hopes to enhance the process to allow citizens to only receive the public notice they care about—growth management, budgets or ordinances. 

He said the website doesn’t have a subscription option for citizens to receive mail public notices. Citizens will need to contact Alachua County for that option. The website gives as a contact email. 

“A member of the public could obviously get it by mail,” Crosby said. “That’s one of the requirements, but no one has signed up. We don’t have that button on the website itself.” 

Crosby said the county plans to collect information on the public notice webpage—including how it’s used and who subscribes—before returning to the BOCC in a few months.  

In its September ordinance, commissioners asked staff to return with a plan to keep citizens informed of the switch, where to find public notices and other enhanced outreach. Commissioners mentioned using the savings from the online switch to fund the outreach. 

Mark Sexton, county spokesperson, said the county will plan to promote specific public notices with posts on the county’s social media. He said the communications department will promote the notices at a department’s request.   

The state law allows Alachua County to publish public notices for cities and agencies within its boundaries. County staff presented that option to commissioners in September as an option once the platform is running, but the county hit the ground with the option already in place.  

Crosby said he’s received positive feedback from these agencies about savings since the site went live. He said he’s not heard any public feedback yet. 

“Ultimately, this move enhances transparency and encourages citizen engagement in county affairs,” the county’s March 29 email said. 

Newspaper officials, some of whom would lose revenue with the change, pushed back on that assertion at the county’s September meeting, saying posting notices exclusively on the website would hide the county’s work—not increase transparency.  

Representatives from Gannett, the owners of the Gainesville Sun, which has run the county’s public notices for decades, Mainstreet Daily News and the Florida Press Association appeared for the meeting.  

“Simply saying that something ‘enhances transparency’ doesn’t make it so,” J.C. Derrick, publisher of Mainstreet Daily News, said about the county’s change. “The county has removed important public information from the Gainesville Sun’s print edition, the Sun’s website, and, which will significantly limit how many citizens know what their local government is doing. To make matters worse, they did so after a single print notice and a Friday afternoon email announcement—on a holiday—giving the clear impression that the county is looking for as little accountability as possible.” 

Alachua County has spent from $60,000 to $85,000 in public notices per year—almost entirely with the Gainesville Sun. The county’s constitutional officers—like the tax collector and supervisor of elections—added another $10,000 to $15,000 per year. 

Crosby told the commission that the county estimates spending $20,000 by posting the notices online. 

Al Cross, who serves as director emeritus for the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism, criticized the county’s change. He said reading a newspaper is a serendipitous experience, pulling in citizens with a variety of content who might find legal notices that they would never search for. 

“This is how most people read public notices; they’re usually not looking for them, but they see an ad about something the government is doing, or is planning to do, or might let someone do, and they read it,” Cross said. 

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said she feels like publishing public notices is simply ticking a box to satisfy state requirements. The public notices can have confusing language as required to follow the state law. She hopes the online publishing accomplishes the task while allowing the county to fund better outreach programs.  

“My hope is that we will be doing outreach that’s much more plain language and that is targeted at people who would be interested in the projects based on their geographic location or based on their special interest groups,” Prizzia said. 

Cross said stopping the publication of public notices hampers public engagement. He said public notices are one of the three pillars for government transparency—the others include open records and open meetings.  

“If the leaders of Alachua County want to promote engagement with citizens, stopping publication of public notices in newspapers would be counterproductive,” Cross said. 

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Oh so we don’t have to pay for public notices? excellent. And Gannett is an absolute violation of Anti-Trust Laws