By Tammy Curtis, Publisher
I am sure it is safe to say the manner in which District 30 State Representative Frances Cavenaugh would react if legislation were introduced that drastically affected her livelihood through the sale of automobiles or race horses. I am sure it would mirror how Arkansas newspapers feel about her attack on government transparency and small business through her introduction of House Bill 1399. Her bill is designed to place public notices, like ordinances and land sales on government websites and no longer in newspapers under the guise of saving counties money.
How much will this cost? How much would it save each year? Likely much less than carving away at the actual waste within many counties. But what is the cost of leaving hundreds of thousands of Arkansans in absence of the knowledge of things that affect them? I bet Fran can’t provide you with that number. For many counties, including larger metropolitan areas in Arkansas, research into the county budgets reflects pretty much the same across the state, one percent or less of the counties entire budget is spent on legal notices. The counties would like to present a large number to sound like its a massive cost, but when compared to the entire budget, that is not the case.
Taking away these notices affects many people in lower income areas whose populations depend on local newspapers for hard news and legal notices. No one goes searching for a legal notice, but yet seeks every day local news that affects them in these newspapers that also house the publications. They discover them while reading hard news. Many of the low income or elderly populations don’t own or even know how to operate a computer and don’t have Internet access. Cavenaugh wants to allow the very government the Press monitors through the Freedom of the Press to self-police themselves on their own websites? How is muddying government transparency in any way reflective of what both Republican Cavenaugh and her friend, lobbyist Chase Duggar, admittedly stand for by virtue of being Republicans- government transparency?
Duggar is the CEO of JCD Consulting, whose client list includes the County Judge’s Association. He is also the former Director of the Arkansas Republican Party. It makes you wonder what the motive truly is, doesn’t it? Or better yet, who benefits ? Cavenaugh’s tune about newspapers has seemingly flip flopped, from 2019-21. Before redistricting, her district (60) included Sharp County, where my newspaper, the Spring River Chronicle is based. During those years alone, she spent $5,470 on 32 NEWSPAPER ads promoting herself to her constituents. Why then would she spend that much money on newsprint? “A lot of people don’t read printed newspapers anymore. I don’t think we can get my kids to pick up a printed newspaper.” That was what she told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette last week about newspapers being an “antiquated means of releasing public information.” Does she have so much money that $5,470 is nothing, or was it just a tax write off for her?
Perhaps after over five years in state legislature, she has forgotten about small businesses and the important role they play in local economies. After all, she and her husband’s vehicle dealerships and race horse business hardly qualify as “small”. Newspapers are VITAL small businesses that promote other VITAL small businesses in a way that no other media can replicate. Is she unaware of why these small businesses opt to advertise in newspapers? They do so for the simple fact, people read them and they are an effective way to grow and promote small business. People read them because they are TRUSTED. This is a forum where they seek information, photos and stories of how well their children or grandchildren doing in sports, educational activities to local interest stories as well as ones about crime that may affect their neighborhoods are other reasons they read. While there, they find government notice or sales and police or restaurant health reports.
Perhaps she has forgotten newspapers also publish content free online and on social media as a means of reaching the most possible readers and subscribers. I challenge her to find a small county social media page or website that has over 24,000 followers or 6,000 or more hits a day like many newspapers, including the Spring River Chronicle, do with their online presence. How will people know when these legal notices are on county or state websites without constantly monitoring them? How will they know where they are? What if they don’t have Internet or a smartphone? She reasons that, according to the bill, the county’s will first run the website location and information in… ARE YOU READY FOR THIS? A NEWSPAPER. Why? If no one reads them? You see where we are going with this? Perhaps she has more money than the only $29,910 per capita income the average person in her representativ area earns. This number is much less in many areas of the state.
These people are the ones who can’t afford Internet and still have “pay as you go” cellular phones or are forced to decide that medicine costs are more important than Internet. Or, perhaps she doesn’t care. Maybe it is time that we all remember where her loyalties lie, and realize it’s not with the real working class she was elected to represent. She would prefer to save one percent or less for a government entity that doesn’t have to live like the normal person. We should not only let her know we don’t like her attempt to muddy county government transparency, but also consider finding someone in neighboring Lawrence County to replace her when she runs again for re-election.
Let’s find someone who stands for their constituents real interests, instead of doing what paid lobbyists or her county judge friends tell her to do. While she isn’t alone in supporting this, also reach out to the co-sponsors. Call 870-886-4000, and let her know where you read this. Don’t worry she won’t see this because “A lot of people don’t read printed newspapers anymore.” The continued growth of our subscriber list proves otherwise.