Are Government Legal Notices A Waste Of Tax Dollars?
By John Pless
Many people believe if you dig deep enough you can find where government wastes your tax dollars. So we're beginning a new, on-going series of reports called Waste Watch where we are going to find those wasted dollars.
We begin with a closer look into governments spending money to buy ads in newspapers that few people read.
Times are changing as fewer people subscribe to and read printed papers in favor of getting information on-line. So should the Tennessee law be changed so that governments no longer have to spend your money on something seldom used?
According to the Tennessee Press Association 70% of Americans read newspapers either in print or on-line. But what about all those legal notices that city and county governments are required by law to publish?
We posed that question to a number people who said they never read the legal notices. We did find a few people who said they do read some legal notices like announcements of marriages, divorce and foreclosures.
The City of Chattanooga spends about $75,000 a year to buy space in newspapers to let the public know about meetings, bids and purchases according to city media relations director Richard Beeland.
"Well we've always been concerned about the amount of money we're spending on legal notices," Beeland said.
Last year City Hall asked State Senator Bo Watson, R-Hamilton County, to introduce a bill that would change the requirement for governments so they could publish legal notices on-line without having to pay for printed notices in newspapers.
"What I wanted to do with this bill was begin the dialogue of how do we transition from a print media system to a system that's electronic and still meets those four tenants of being independent, verifiable, achievable and accessible," Senator Watson said.
The measure failed. The Tennessee Press Association lobbied against the change which would have resulted in lost income for newspapers. TPA said the change would water down the press's role of keeping people informed.
Frank Gibson, policy director for the Tennessee Press Association, said "of course that removes an important ingredient and purpose of public notice and that is that the notice be independent of government and verifiable."
TPA cites several studies showing why going exclusively on-line would keep a substantial number of people in the dark. At least 36% of Tennesseans don't have broadband access. 25% of Tennesseans don't have computers -- of those who do have computers only one-in-four visit government web sites.
Vickie Jefferson, a reader of those printed legal notices, said "I think they should keep doing it solely because everybody doesn't use on-line."
The city's spokesman agrees, going on-line would limit access for some but these days it's more about the cost considering how few people even read the printed notices.
"We're just trying to save taxpayer dollars by eliminating the requirement that we put it in print," Beeland said.
We are looking into other government projects and programs where there may be wasteful spending of tax dollars. If you know about a government program that needs attention we have set up a special e-mail address where you can share the information: email@example.com.
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Last Update on August 22, 2014 17:58 GMT
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