By editorial board • 

Evergreen case shows need to keep legals in newspapers

The tip resulting in Tuesday’s front page article about the pending sheriff’s sale of Evergreen International Aviation’s former headquarters didn’t originate from a source with inside knowledge. In fact, it didn’t come from a private source at all.

The news was publicly released, albeit in very cryptic language, in the same form used for county planning applications, pending government meetings and foreclosure filings — paid legal notices appearing as classified ads.

Legals are designed to foster a more informed citizenry and a more effective democracy. They have come under threat of late, but we maintain they continue to serve an important function.

The public has an obvious interest in this property, beyond its link to Del Smith’s former aviation empire. Because it enjoys a direct taxiway link to the McMinnville Airport, its fate promises to have a permanent impact on the community. 

The public is best served when information is presented to them, not when they must mount a search for it. Newspapers are still the best means of accomplishing that, and this story is a prime example.

Laws requiring public notices to be run in newspapers have come under increasing attack from governmental and quasi-governmental agencies, who see the hosting of legals on their websites as sources of revenue.

As it happens, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, like its counterparts in most states, already posts all the state’s legal notices in a fully keyword-searchable database accessible to all. But government officials, of course, prefer to control as much information themselves as possible.

Were it not for the lengthy legal run in the News-Register, a multi-million-dollar property might have been sold on the courthouse steps without anyone the wiser. And judging from its obtuse wording, that may have been exactly what the posting entity hoped to achieve.

If someone wants to slip legal developments past the public, one of two opposing strategies is typically used. The notice includes as little detail as possible, or it is so filled with detail, laid out in legal jargon, that readers’ eyes glaze over. 

The Trustee’s Notice of Sale involving Evergreen Holdings, as grantor, and Andrew M. Martin, as beneficiary, followed the latter course. Fortunately, our reporting staff was up to the challenge.

Hide the notice on a little-traveled governmental or quasi-governmental website, and you have a recipe for much more effective concealment of important public information.