WHNT News 19 Taking Action Investigation: “The Cost of Government”

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)–   There was a time in America when newspapers were king.  Everyone read the paper.   But 50 years ago this month that began to change with one event in American history, the assassination of President Kennedy.

After that day, more Americans began getting news from television than the newspaper.  But as people’s news habits changed, the laws did not.

“Posting notices in the paper and publications of ordinances, any of those things, has been an issue for a number of years, the costs associated with it,” says Ken Smith with the Alabama League of Municipalities.

He’s referring to a 1950s Alabama law that requires local government to post legal notices about certain ordinances or law changes in the local paper.  It can be a large cost for local governments.  In fact, the city of Huntsville budgets more than $100,000 per year to pay for notices.

“There are always questions about what actually has to go in the notice,” Smith says.  “The law spells out fairly clearly what goes into most notices municipalities have to put in the newspaper.”

State Senator Bill Holtzclaw has worked to ease the requirements of the law.  Some notices can now be placed on city’s websites.  Eventually, they may all end up there.

“I think everybody pretty much understands that eventually technology is going to reach a point where publication is going to go online, “says Smith.  “The public is interested in using technology.  There’s a lot more access to it as it becomes available.”

Editors of newspapers disagree.  They says it’s not just the lost revenue from the ads, but it’s the public’s interest in knowing what’s going on in their local government.

“The fact is that people don’t go to websites that governments operate nearly as much as they do newspapers,” says David Clemons, editor of Fort Payne’s Times-Journal newspaper.  “People are still going to newspapers at a tremendous rate.”

“I fear it would allow governments to sneak things by the citizens.  I’m sure that’s not his intention but the result will be governments might be able to put bills that they don’t want people to see by the public.”

Clemons also points out that while the $100,000+ Huntsville spends each year on legal notices might seem like a lot of money, but not when you consider Huntsville’s overall budget.

“The budget was 242 million dollars for this coming year.  So that’s less than six-one hundredths of a percent.”

So, it could all be summed up with a question.   Is $100,000 too much for a city to be spending on newspaper ad space or is it a bargain to make sure those cities are spending your tax dollars wisely?

3 comments

  • Tommy Gibb

    This is the only reliable way the public can keep track of their government. It’s informative and serves a good purpose.

  • Planet Planet

    As media change, methods should change. It makes sense to place notices in the old hard copy papers AND in on-line services. Transparency is the key to effective community involvement in their own governance.

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