Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum on Thursday asked members of the county’s legislative delegation to change state law pertaining to legal organs in order to allow legal advertising to be posted on local websites rather than printed in newspapers.
Mecum’s request came during a discussion of the county’s legislative “wish list” with members of the delegation.
“We would like to see the legal organ set up with a local media website, such as Access North Georgia,” Mecum told legislators. “We figured that it would be a more fair trade setup.”
Mecum said there would be a cost saving for the county.
“It would be cheaper for us and far more accessible. 100 percent,” he said. “It would just be a lot cheaper and more accessible. We could have a bargaining tool basically to keep our costs down. We would just like to have something other than a printed — if somebody wants to print, they can do that — but to have something like that, it would be cheaper, more advantageous.”
The Times is the legal organ for Hall County. The county legal organ is the entity in which notices such as tax sales, foreclosures, public hearing notices and government budgets are published, as required by law, for distribution to the general public.
State law currently requires the legal organ to be a paid circulation newspaper. The Times is the only newspaper in Hall County that meets the qualifications to serve as a legal organ under the current law.
While the request to lawmakers came from the commission chairman, the county commission is not involved in the selection of the legal organ. The responsibility lies with the county sheriff, clerk of court and probate judge.
“I don’t know what they spend for legal advertising. ... Obviously it’s enough to bring it up. Everybody’s looking for cost savings,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville. “I guess they like to use the word ‘monopoly’ a lot.”
The rates for public notice advertising required to be run in the legal organ are set by the state and are the same statewide.
All legal notices published in The Times are also posted on gainesvilletimes.com and are accessible at no charge. The Georgia Press Association also maintains a website on which legal notices from throughout the state are posted and accessible.
“The way they were expressing it, they wanted to get away from the newsprint totally,” Rogers said.
For people with no Internet access, it was “a concern — no doubt,” he said.
He said he would need to clarify with a legislative legal counsel to figure out the state role in legal ads.
“I’m not sure it involves us, but I’ve never been asked that question. It’s something we’ll have to check out and see,” Rogers said. “There’s so much that we have to deal with anyway dealing with city and county governments, and that’s a question that’s never been asked me in almost 19 years.”
Commissioner Jeff Stowe said he hadn’t yet looked at figures on reaching citizens.
“Chairman Mecum brought that up this morning. Of course, it would save us money. I haven’t looked at the numbers or what the potential numbers are that Access North Georgia versus The Times, those kinds of things, so I haven’t seen any numbers to have any facts, whether or not we’d reach the same number of people,” he said. “Potentially it could save us money, and that’s a good thing if we reach the same number of people and constituents. It’s very new in the talks.”
Rogers said he had used The Times website to look up legals, although he said he preferred print.
“Personally, I prefer reading it in the paper. That’s just me. I know the younger generation, a lot of them read things online,” he said. “I’ve looked up many of them on the (Times) website, especially old legals, when I need to go back on the archives.”