Legal organ: what it is and what it is not

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, February 16, 2022

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Should your government want to make changes that affect you in a large way, they are required to make those pending changes known. The way they do so is through the legal organ. If the value of your property may change through taxes or rezoning, this would be a good example of when they would utilize the legal organ. The legal organ is the messenger to the masses. You will often see court appearance notices, notifications of a will being probated, tax sales and foreclosures among other items. Your legal organ is a newspaper which must be housed in the county of which it is considered organ. In some cases, a county might not have a newspaper meeting the requirements of a legal organ and in that case, the probate judge, the clerk of court and the sheriff identify the best option. The legal organ is where “the legals” are posted. You might also see open meetings being advertised in the legal organ. When an entity needs to get the word out, the organ is used. The Americus Times-Recorder (ATR) is the legal organ for our three major governing bodies, City Council of Americus, The Sumter County Board of Commissioners and the Sumter County Board of Education. While the counties must abide by Georgia laws, local entities can be governed by their local policies. When drafting local policies, the attorney for the body will often have the requirements reflected as the state does. Such is the case for the City Council of Americus.

By Georgia law there are several criteria the newspaper must meet to qualify as an option for the legal organ. Some of those requirements are; being housed within the county, having less than 75% advertising, printing at least once a week, and having 75% of its printed newspapers being sent to paid subscribers rather than free distribution.

What isn’t the legal organ required to do? A legal organ is required to post the legal advertisements for the county they serve.  A legal organ is not required to report on meetings nor are they required to report on meetings in a particular manner. When a local newspaper chooses to report on the activity of elected officials, it is as a service to the citizens. The ATR realizes that an informed electorate is a priority to ensuring a confident vote. It is also imperative for a citizen to know the issues being decided and if they should contact their official. While we realize that only a few have time or motivation to sit through multiple hours’ worth of meetings, we also know a concerned citizen will make time to absorb the reporting and use such as a way to make wise decisions in speaking with their representatives as well as voting for their representatives.  The individual boards also keep minutes which are available to the public, should this approach serve the resident better.

Trey Gowdy, a former US House of Representative and attorney from South Carolina once made clear in a press conference the importance of the media. “Congress is supposed to provide oversight, the voter is supposed to provide oversight and you (the media) are supposed to provide oversight. That is why you have special liberties and that is why you have special protections.”  Providing oversight is a charge the ATR takes seriously. We provide oversight to the citizen on the City Council of Americus, Sumter County Board of Education and Sumter County Board of Commissioners. There are many more open meetings which affect citizens; however, we limit our regular coverage to these three major boards. While each of these major boards may have committees, authorities and sub-committees who hold meetings and make recommendations, ultimately the governing board must own the decision by way of a final vote.

Reporters are not the only ones who are allowed to be printed. The ATR has a letter to the editor option for anyone who is writing with a local perspective and who is willing to attach their name to the submission. You can make your voice known in many ways, from where you spend your dollars, to how you cast your vote, to speaking publicly at the governing board meetings. The ATR invites you to make your voice known in our print as well. Additionally, any elected official who would like to address our readers, may submit commentary as well. This can be used to voice their opinions, justify a vote, address the constituents or to give a “state of the union” address. As with letters to the editor, they will not be edited in any way and are free of charge. While the ATR prints them as quickly as possible, we are not able to print multiple submissions at one time and will print in the order of which they are received. We welcome the community to utilize our resources. This is your paper, just like in life, your voice makes it a richer experience.