published Monday, November 22nd, 2010

City seeks alternative to legal notice ads

by Cliff Hightower

Chattanooga wants to advertise its own meetings and legal notices on its website and not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars annually to advertise in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"It doesn't make sense why people couldn't search our own website," said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Newspaper industry officials disputed claims of any savings to taxpayers and said lawsuits from taxpayers angry because they missed an important city meeting could cost municipalities more than the ads.


Chattanooga has spent thousands of dollars over three years to run legal notices in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

2008-09: $74,000

2009-10: $91,000

2010-11: $75,000

Source: Chattanooga

Under state law, local governments are required to place legal notices in a newspaper of "general circulation," so governments cannot use online publications or their own websites as sole distributors of information.

Chattanooga advertises its regularly scheduled City Council and committee meetings, special council meetings, bids for work orders and contracts and foreclosures in the newspaper.

The city has been in talks with the Tennessee Municipal League and soon will speak with local state legislators about drafting a state statute that would allow the city to advertise on its website its own meetings, public bids and other legal notices, Beeland said. He said the city also plans to draft ordinances within a month to change some codes that don't allow the city to advertise on its own website.

One Tennessee newspaper official called the city's idea "horrible," while others said newspapers are the most effective and reliable way to get legal notices to the public.

"This would be a terrible disservice to the general public and their right to know," said Times Free Press President Jason Taylor. "Legals in a published, printed format also serve as a historical reference from the day they print forward and can be validated immediately, without ambiguity, unlike public notices issued electronically, which after the fact can be abrogated or manipulated for the benefit of government versus the people."

Art Powers, president of the Tennessee Press Association and publisher of the Johnson City Press, said, "I don't think the system right now is broken."

State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said the city has not contacted him about the state legislation. Some bills to allow online notices came up during the last session but died in subcommittee, he said.

Watson said he has not studied the issue but is open to hearing reasons for allowing online notices.

"We have to realize online news services are a reality," he said. "They are not going away. They are going to get bigger."

Beeland said cost is a large part of the reason for the proposal. The city has paid more than $240,000 in advertising to the Times Free Press over the past three years. The city's budget this year is $185 million.

"The Internet is like a big bulletin board that goes out to a lot of people," Beeland said.

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said Friday he might be interested in pursuing a change in legislation because it "might be worthwhile" and "save some money."

Powers, though, warned against being too hasty. He said there are a lot of problems with cities or counties posting online. The information may not be as reliable because it can be altered, he said, and cost savings would be negated by public employees working on government websites on taxpayer time.

"What is the real savings in that?" he asked. "I don't see it."

Carol Hudler, president and publisher of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, said allowing governments to publish their own notices was a "horrible idea" because the data wouldn't be transferred to the public effectively.

Hudler said citizens may not have access to government websites. If they missed a meeting time, lawsuits could result, she said.

"Any money they were hoping to save would be wiped away by a lawsuit," she said.

Hudler said local governments quickly would learn that their websites don't reach nearly as many readers as newspapers.

"They don't get that readership, nor will they," she said.

Some Hamilton County elected officials had differing reactions to the idea of posting public notices on the Internet.

County Clerk Bill Knowles said his department spent $8,700 this year on legal notices for County Commission meetings. He said the possibility of savings needs to be considered.

"It would be an attractive thing for all governments," he said.

Clerk and Master Lee Akers, however, said he thought the best bang for the buck is advertising in the local paper. He said most of his legal notices, which include delinquent taxes and foreclosures, are paid for by litigants and not taxpayers.

"There's a lot of people who still don't know what the Internet is," he said.

He said his office tries to publish in the medium that reaches the most people.

"We felt like we got a lot more coverage with the Times Free Press," he said.

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raybarker444 said...

Great idea. Yeah the web is the best place to put announcements. I feel real bad for the paper. not

November 22, 2010 at 6:15 a.m.
Allison12 said...

Internet only public notices would exclude several generations that still obtain their news and information throught the local newspaper. I also believe that the families with low income that cannot afford internet service and a home computer will also be advdversly impacted by not placing meeting and important government information in the newspaper. The Littlefield adminstration is consistently diconnected with the people they serve. I remember hearing Mayor Littlefield explain away raising stormwater fees to the highest in the state of Tennnessee, and property taxes second highest in state as the malls and big box stores that he drove buy were busy, and the local economy is not that bad. Littlefield admin. is so out of touch.

November 22, 2010 at 7:43 a.m.

Fire Missy Crutchfield and use her $100,000+ salary to cover the cost of properly conducting the citizen's business.

November 22, 2010 at 9:40 a.m.
Allison12 said...

Bookieturnersghost Who would care for the downtown unicorns if Missy Cruthfield was fired?

November 22, 2010 at 12:09 p.m.
montie said...


How did you ever hope to appear unbiased when writing this article? This is an opinion piece, one with a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). You even miss the whole point of publishing legal notices, dissemination.

This isn’t surprising since newspapers don’t have nearly the penetration that the Internet does. In January 2010 Connected Tennessee published their annual Residential Technology Assessments. In it they found that 82% of adults in Tennessee use the Internet.

Now compare that with 28% of adults in Tennessee subscribing to newspapers. I made several gross assumptions in calculating that figure. I assumed that all 50 publications listed for Tennessee by 1) are newspapers, 2) their subscribers are Tennessee residents, and 3) they publish legal notices. Total weekday circulation would then total 1,323,569. Thus, assuming that subscribers were adults and Tennessee’s population hasn’t varied significantly from the 2009 US Census estimate I calculated a penetration rate of 28%.

This isn’t exactly fair to newspapers since they can be passed around and read many times. The Audit Bureau of Circulations even appears to take this into consideration, and if I’m quoting the right statistic correctly, the Chattanooga Times Free Press is read by 47.9% of possible readers. But that still leaves quite a few people without access to legal notices compared with the Internet.

But then you report for a paper. Why would you present an argument that is detrimental to your employer? Maybe you should re-read the third sentence of your paper’s Ethics Policy, “We must avoid the perception of conflicts of interest.” At the very least you should have begun the piece with a disclaimer stating the paper’s financial interest in continuing publications of legal notices, if not moved the entire piece to the editorial section.



November 22, 2010 at 2:14 p.m.
Allison12 said...

Montie, home based computers and technology were not in homes until the late 80's. I do not believe your numbers, which appear to be fiction in a New York Nights gross sort of way. There are generations of elderly, home bound, and impoverished people in this community that rely on printed media of the local newspaper. The ding bats in the Littleman adminstration have a history of lack of vision and creativity. How can any decent government want to stop providing notice of meetings to this class of citizens. Oh yeah, the same group that says, Be Magazine, LLC was just a hobby. hahahahaha

November 22, 2010 at 3:17 p.m.
mart1ros said...

What about the people who don't even own a computer or have internet service? Like the some of the older generation. They depend on the newspaper for their information.

November 22, 2010 at 8:12 p.m.
rolando said...

As I recall, public notices are required by law in most cases. The Internet is many things, but being the sole source for posted legal notices is not one of them. That does not constitute "dissemination".

As bt'sghost stated, fire some overpaid dead-weight non-performing gov't worker and use his/her 6-digit income to pay the TFP costs.

November 22, 2010 at 8:36 p.m.
MikeFarber said...

People are naturally afraid of change. Doing it "the old way" is safe. It requires no thought, but is not what's best for society. Technology is continously changing our world every day, like it or not.

A similar situation is going on in NY where companies that form LLCs must pay like $1,000 to publish the formation notice in newspapers. Many of the LLCs are small business owners who would like less expsenive alternatives such as the Internet. I bet more people can be reached using the Internet than using newspapers. There is a site called that is doing something interesting. They are publishing all LLC notices for free online. While the current law still requires publication in newspapers, it's great to see how easy the "new world" will be as soon as the law catches up with technology. Why not replace expensive newspaper requirements with "designated" publication sites like this one approved by the government?

December 1, 2010 at 9:32 a.m.
Filipone said...

Farber, What a great idea. In New York, the publishing requirement is universally detested in the small business community. It appears that has taken the bull by the horns and demonstrates that you can "publish" a notice to the general public and not charge anything. I've spoken to them and it appears that they will only charge a nominal fee for an affidavit (notarized proof that the ad has and is still on the web site. The advantages of publishing on line in lieu of newspapers are many: 1.) The notices on line are indexed by search engines and thus available world wide. In the newspaper, if you don't subscribe to the specific newspaper, you never see them. 2.) The notices on line are posted/published every day forever. In the newspaper they often run 2 or 4 times and then disappear. 3.) Corrections can be made immediately on line. 4.) The cost as has shown can be nothing. It is understandable to be skeptical of the government entities publishing their own ads but why not bid out on line publishing to the lowest bidder?

December 4, 2010 at 1:14 a.m.
bpqd said...

As a telecom professional who has had experience with electronic networking since before the rise of the Internet, my first reaction is: don't worry, it'll all delete itself.

The leading reason why we need to stick to paper is because it is harder to delete. Paper is an ideal record keeper for its durability. Electronic records are fantastic for widespread distribution. Both have their advantages.

Given that we've seen many politicians in our state delete inconvenient web pages, it's more prudent for important records to remain in paper print.

I love networking and telecom; however, it is not the answer for everything. When it comes to maintaining a durable record, paper has been unbeatable for centuries. Legal notices, legislative resolutions and accounting audits will all remain strong candidates for exploiting the durability of paper records.

While an electronic copy may help get the word out, it's in the public interest to maintain publicly accessible paper copies of legal and financial governmental actions.

No paper trail, and the politicians of tomorrow will only be quicker to revise their fictions and fables to meet their immediate convenience.

While we should also use electronic media, they are not a substitute for the durability of paper record keeping in the presence of so many untrustworthy potential revisionists and document destroyers. Continue to publish the notices in paper, regardless of what we choose to do electronically.

It's not that the method of recording is untrustworthy; it's that the people in charge of the computers can barely be trusted to serve out one elected term. These days, some of our most important local officials are either self-appointed business cronies in the commercial real estate industry; or, they're office holders who have been subjected to recall efforts; or, they are appointed officials subjected to sudden terminations.

We're not seeing officials so trustworthy as to inspire us to provide them with instantaneous access to deleting files not in their best interest.

Continue to maintain public paper records. At least then we can detect a fire or shredding in the event of a cover-up.

March 22, 2011 at 2:45 p.m.
bpqd said...

My guess is that this may be some cost cutting scam to keep from digitizing daily copies of newspapers in libraries. While that may seem like a small cost to outsiders, it's a steady liability to government repository libraries.

The City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County operate one such library.

So far, we've seen excessive skimping on basic budgeting for the library. We've seen the cheapening of the cataloging and underfunding of staff employment. I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't some obscure scheme to further erode essential library services by targeting technical matters in the basement which are out of the public's direct view.

Another good reason to oppose it. We need to protect the library from any further of the recently destructive and unnecessary cuts which have been unwillingly foisted upon the community through the crony plutocracy running this area.

We will already have to raise taxes significantly on commercial property holders to pay for the damage they've caused through their neglect during the Littlefield administration. Those charges and tax increases will include paying for damage to library facilities and services and employment.

Continue to keep the records in print and in public and accessible through the Hamilton County libraries.

March 22, 2011 at 3:04 p.m.
BillGates said...

They can use alternative form of advertising like Advertising Signs to advertise what they want to advertise.

April 13, 2012 at 6:13 a.m.
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