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I generally hate to post entire articles, but this is an interesting follow-up to Farrar's anti-Town Talk bill: Bill allowing Rapides governments to use Web sites as official journal dies in committee

BATON ROUGE – After accusing a Town Talk employee of lying and indicating that he didn’t trust the House Municipal Affairs Committee, Rep. Rick Farrar wasn’t surprised that the panel killed his bill seeking to allow Rapides Parish governmental bodies to use their own Web sites to publish legal notices.

State law requires legal notices to be published in an official journal with paid circulation. In Rapides Parish, it’s The Town Talk. Farrar, D-Pineville, said putting the notices on Web sites would save local governments more than $400,000 in printing costs. He said the governing bodies of Alexandria, Pineville, Ball, Cheneyville, Lecompte and a waterworks district passed resolutions supporting his proposal. Newspapers oppose changing the law because “it’s about greed,” Farrar told the committee. “It’s me not wanting my citizens paying so much.” When Jim Smilie, online manager of The Town Talk, and representatives of the Louisiana Press Association contested his figures, Farrar told the committee, “I wish you would swear people in before they testify. … What they just told you is absolutely not the truth. I wish everybody would be honest.” Farrar said he obtained advertising expenditures from the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, Rapides Parish Police Jury, Rapides Parish School Board and the municipal governments of Alexandria and Ball, and the figures were higher than the $250,000 estimate cited by Smilie. Farrar said Alexandria alone spent $106,000 on public notification. Smilie’s copy of the letter the city sent to Farrar in February shows Alexandria spent $48,330 on legal notices. The total advertising bill was higher, but the bulk of it was not for information required to be published. Rep. Clara Baudoin, D-Carencro, questioned Farrar about having the support of the city of Pineville. She quoted a letter from Mayor Clarence Fields opposing posting legal notices on the Internet. “I really don’t believe 75 to 100 years from now citizens will be able to go back and see notices that were posted online,” Fields said in a letter dated May 10. Committee Chairman Ernest Baylor, D-Shreveport, asked Farrar why he did not respond last summer to the committee’s notice of conducting a hearing on using the Internet for legal notices that was scheduled when Farrar’s legislation from last year was converted to a study. When the author did not respond, plans for a hearing were canceled. Farrar said, “It was pretty obvious to me last year and this year, too,” that the proposal would be defeated. He said he didn’t want a study because “I didn’t have faith and confidence in the Louisiana Press Association to participate in the spirit of cooperation.” Also, “The Town Talk would have the opportunity to come down here and sway you.” Jeff David, publisher of the Livingston Parish News, said online publication has its hazards. He said hackers altered news he has posted on the newspaper’s Web site. “The more I get into this, the more I realize how much the almighty dollar is in involved in this,” Farrar said. He blasted Gannett Co. Inc., owner of The Town Talk and newspapers in Lafayette, Shreveport, Monroe and Opelousas, as being “about one thing, and that’s money.” Leon Coleman Sr., publisher of the Alexandria News Weekly, said his publication is an auxiliary journal used by local governments to reach a targeted audience, the black community, on specific issues. Requiring citizens to use the Internet for public notices “would be devastating to our community,” he said. “Many of our residents don’t have access to computers.”