We cannot accurately speculate as to their intent but their approach is one filled with false assumptions and a lack of regard for Tennessee residents’ right to know.
First, some background.
In some cities across our state — neighboring Chattanooga being one — some are proposing that state lawmakers in the 107th General Assembly support a reckless campaign to allow local and state governments the right to post required legal notices on their hard-to-find and harder-to-read websites instead of publishing them in newspapers as Legal Publications.
Such legal notices, which our readers find regularly within the pages of the Cleveland Daily Banner, are used to announce certain government meetings, land transactions, annexation public hearings, zoning changes and other legal proceedings. These paid public notices are required in Tennessee.
Instead of using printed notices, certain governments wish instead to post them electronically onto their own local and state websites. Proponents argue this legislation could save governments — and taxpayers — money.
Such savings would be minimal. One metropolitan government in Tennessee reports its public notice spending amounts to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its total budget. The accompanying cost to public knowledge, and its access, is unfathomable.
Admittedly, Legal Publications are advertising dollars to a newspaper. But the people impact slices much deeper.
The reasoning of those supporting such anti-information practices is wrought with fallacy.
Fallacy No. 1: Public information via Internet technology is open to all.
Even in today’s evolving society where technology is king and electronics are ruling the younger roost, this irresponsible reversal of state-mandated policy is age-biased and sadly irrelevant to older age groups. Based on available data, 40 percent of today’s population age 65 and over does not go online for information.
To bury legally required notices within congested, confusing government websites is not only unwise but discriminates against older residents whose generation was not born with remote controls in both hands, computers in every house and Blackberry devices in each pocket.
Fallacy No. 2: Changing public notice laws is not contrary to the public’s right to know.
Keeping the public informed is the very foundation on which every newspaper in America is built. This is done through front-page news articles, features of human interest, opinion pages filled with letters, columns and editorials ... and legally published notices. To deprive Tennessee residents and newspaper readers across the state of this convenient access is innately wrong because it discreetly defies laws governing the public’s right to know.
Fallacy No. 3: No harm, no foul with no published notice; the public is still served because it is on the Internet.
Legal Publications printed in newspapers provide third-party oversight and serve as a public record assuring that mandated notification deadlines are being met. No such guarantees can be made with website postings.
It is a new era of unlimited information but it is not available to all.
Website postings reach the masses who are computer-savvy, but not the millions whose lives have not embraced the tumultuous, rapid-paced world of high-tech electronics. Research shows 1.5 million Tennessee residents do not own a computer nor do they have access to the Internet.
In spite of the claims by some, this is not unlimited information.
Nor is it equal.
A new era could come when all Tennessee residents own a computer and understand their operation.
But that time is not here.
And that time is not now.