Troup County News chosen as legal organ

Published 7:53 am Saturday, November 21, 2020

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For the fourth consecutive year, Troup County officials have chosen the Troup County News as the legal organ of Troup County.

As designated by Georgia state law, the decision was made by Sheriff James Woodruff, Probate Judge Debbie Wade and Clerk of Court Jackie Taylor. Meetings were held Nov. 6 and Nov. 13 to discuss the decision. Both meetings were held at the Troup County Government Center.

In order to qualify to be the legal organ, and thus be the designated newspaper that publishes all legal notices in the county, Georgia state law stipulates a newspaper must have and maintain at least a 75 percent paid circulation as established by an independent audit, which became the focus of the discussion at both meetings.

During the Nov. 6 meeting, which was set several weeks in advance by Woodruff, Wade and Taylor, The LaGrange Daily News submitted as evidence of its qualification U.S. Postal Service Postal Form 3526, which is titled “Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation,” showing the form had been submitted to the USPS on Sept. 27, 2020. According to USPS regulations, newspapers had until Oct. 1, 2020 to submit the form, which is required by the USPS. USPS specifies that the postal form must publish in a printed issue that is primarily mailed by Oct. 10, and the LDN met those requirements. The postal statement published in The LaGrange Daily News on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, on page 9.

The Georgia Press Association also asks each member newspaper for a signed affidavit saying when the postal statement published in the newspaper, as well as a copy of the postal statement, as it makes and keeps a list of legal organs in the state each year.

LaGrange Daily News President and Publisher Daniel Evans presented the LDN’s postal statement at the Nov. 6 meeting. Circulation Manager Ed Pugh also represented the LDN at that meeting. The Troup County News was represented by Owner Al Wyche, Publisher and former Troup County Probate Judge Donald Boyd, and Editor Jared Boggs. Woodruff and Wade attended the meeting, but Taylor did not, citing in an email prior to the meeting she saw no reason to change the legal organ in 2020.

“I will give ‘whoever’ my power of whatever it is, first Grand Jury coming in and no time for me,” Taylor wrote on Oct. 19. “I am for staying where we are.”

At the Nov. 6 meeting, Evans presented first, noting The LaGrange Daily News’ growing online presence, including its 4.4 million page views on its website this year, more than 36,000 Facebook followers, bimonthly magazine, LaGrange Living, and Shopper product to make the point that the LDN is the most read news publication in Troup County. Evans noted that if the LDN was the legal organ, many people would see legal notices digitally, as the LDN’s web presence continues to grow and all legal notices would be posted to its website, as they had been in the past when the LDN was designated as the legal organ.

Further, Evans noted that the LDN had already submitted and published its postal statement, which shows the circulation information an audit would reflect. The LDN’s postal statement shows a total paid distribution of 2,825. At this point, the question was raised as to whether any other publication, notably the Troup County News, qualified to be the legal organ.

When given their chance to present, Boggs verbally stated the TCN had 3,000 circulation, but did not present any documentation as proof.

After both papers had made their case, Wade and Woodruff left the meeting, asking representatives of both newspapers to wait as they stepped out. When they returned, they said that they’d called Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to get an understanding of how he interpreted the law. However, due to the uncalled presidential election, Raffensperger was still in the midst of overseeing the tallying of votes in Georgia and said he would get back to them.

Woodruff and Wade said that both papers should expect an answer on who the legal organ would be by Thursday, Nov. 12 or Friday, Nov. 13.

On Nov. 12, The LaGrange Daily News received an email from Wade saying there’d be a second legal organ meeting on Nov. 13 at the Troup County Government Center.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, Taylor attended, along with Woodruff and Wade. The LDN was again represented by Evans and Pugh.

The Troup County News was represented by Wyche, Boggs and Advertising Manager Halee Yates. Also in attendance were Tax Commissioner Shane Frailey and Attorney Luther Jones. County Attorney Mark Degennaro also attended but did not speak at the meeting.

The LDN was asked to present first at this meeting. Evans told the officials that he had already presented all of his information at the last meeting, but that he would be happy to answer any questions.

TCN then presented, saying it had found a blank copy of PSForm3526 online and had filled it out. The LaGrange Daily News received a copy of TCN’s postal statement via an open record request after the meeting. The unsigned, and undated, form shows the TCN’s paid circulation at 96 percent of 3,000 distributed copies. Although the law requires the form to be submitted to the USPS by Oct. 1, TCN leadership confirmed during the meeting the form had not been submitted to the post office, nor had it published in the TCN prior to Oct. 10, the deadline to publish it.

Jones then spoke up, asking Frailey to read a signed affidavit. Frailey read the affidavit, which said it would be “a great hinderance” to his job if the legal organ became a paper without a printed publication on Friday. The LDN currently has five newspapers a week — E-edition Tuesday-Saturday and printed editions on Wednesday and Saturday. TCN currently prints Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.

The LDN asked at the end of the meeting if the decision makers had ever reached someone with the secretary of state’s office. Woodruff said no, noting the election issues the state of Georgia was still dealing with. By law, the probate judge notifies the secretary of state who the county’s legal organ will be for the following year.

Both newspapers were notified on Monday, Nov. 16 that a decision had been made to keep the Troup County News as the county’s legal organ. Wade wrote the email, copying Evans, Degennaro, Frailey, Woodruff, Taylor, Boggs and Boyd.

“The decision has been made to keep the Troup County News as the official legal organ for Troup County at this time,” Wade wrote. “Thank you all.”

The LaGrange Daily News asked Taylor, Woodruff and Wade to comment for this story. Wade replied to an email requesting a meeting with her saying “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to talk to you alone since the decisions have to be made by all three constitutional officers. I’m sorry.”

Woodruff told Evans to call back on Thursday, Nov. 19 but did not answer when called again. Taylor did not respond to an email.

The LDN also asked for a comment from Boyd or Wyche. Neither responded to an email request.