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Public Notices protect your rights

By Susan Reeves
For the past 10 years, the Mount Vernon Optic-Herald has not published a newspaper on the last Thursday of the year. It is nearly impossible to take a break throughout the year since it takes “all hands on deck” every week to wrestle everything onto pages, then get it printed and distributed. Our Publisher Emeritus, Pat Wright, started this policy so that the entire staff would get some quality down time.
This year, there will be a newspaper published for Dec. 29, because the staff at the Optic-Herald firmly believes in providing information for everyone in Franklin County. There is a Citation by Publication concerning a lawsuit in which Exxon Mobil Corporation is the plaintiff that local citizens have the right to read. The citation is required to run four consecutive weeks in a publication with general circulation in Franklin County. The tracts of property to which the suit relates are located in the far northeastern portion of Franklin County.
The phrase “four consecutive weeks” listed in the Public Notice requirements for this type of suit can be interpreted as four consecutive editions or literally as four consecutive calendar weeks. This question has not been a sticking point in past years. Most groups have been satisfied with running their notices in consecutive editions. In this case, because the Optic planned to skip a week during the prescribed time period, a local politician, who will remain nameless, advised Exxon’s attorney to run their notice in the Winnsboro News for the full four weeks. The staff at the News was unable to provide a count of their subscribers by zip code, but I feel certain they do not have a large following from the Talco area.
The Optic staff made the decision to print a small Dec. 29 edition and distribute it so that the citizens would be informed. Optic subscribers pay for 51 annual editions, and there will be 52 editions for this publication year.  Subscribers will not be charged for this extra mailing.
Public Notices in local newspapers protect every citizen’s right to know what is going on in their community. Newspapers are still the most widely accessible form of disseminating information. There has recently been a push on the state and national level to do away with required public notices in newspapers. Their argument is that with the internet, notices can be published online. The main problem is that not everyone has access to the internet. I estimate that fewer than 50 percent of the households in Franklin County have in home access to the internet, and an even smaller number have high speed access. The second problem would be that notices could be posted on obscure websites not easily found by citizens. Also, information on websites can be changed, removed, or otherwise altered. Once a newspaper is printed it is “set in stone.” It is a researchable document that can be viewed in hand, on microfilm, and even online.
Newspapers have been under attack for decades by radio and television and now by the internet. Some of the big city papers have suffered, but most small, local newspapers are still going strong. If you think about it, newspapers were the original social media, and they are still a powerful source of information.
“There will be print newspapers today and tomorrow and for a long time to come,” Dwight McKenzie, of the Texas Press Association, told a group of business people last month.
Public Notices are just as important as news about the city, county, law enforcement, school, and civic groups, and the staff at the Optic-Herald remains dedicated to covering stories and providing information about Franklin County.