MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners will ask the prosecutor's office for legal opinions about publishing legal notices and other advertisements in online local news outlets.
Commissioners made the decision Tuesday after meeting with Richland Source President Jay Allred -- a meeting also attended by Clerk of Courts Linda Frary, Engineer Adam Gove, Deputy Treasurer Matt Fingeld and Assistant Prosecutor J.C. Elgin.
The Ohio Revised Code currently requires "all legal advertisements, notices, and proclamations shall be printed in a newspaper of general circulation."
This section of the state law was written in 1977 and last amended in 2011. Commissioner Tony Vero said state law has not changed with improved technology.
Allred said Richland Source, founded in 2013, is a news and information website with a growing audience that is up 31 percent year over year.
Allred, who demonstrated the ad placement system during the meeting, said the goal is to reach local readers in an efficient and modern way
"We want to deliver a lot of value to not only the county government, but also to the people who the county government serves," Allred said. "These laws are put in place so that people can know when things that need to be public, are public."
He said Richland Source offers advertising that is digital and shareable with a flexible and digital ordering system and a simple, flat-rate price plan that is easy to understand and work with. He said the system will provide data to commissioners and other elected officials to show how many residents had seen the ad.
Allred said his company offers a way to reach an even wider audience, helping local government better meet the "spirit" of the 42-year-old law.
"We can't replace the law. This system is design to supplement the letter of the law. You still have to meet the letter of the law. This whole system is designed to meet the spirit of (the law). It's designed to work in congress with the newspaper of record," Allred said.
"Our value in this equation is we're reaching hundreds of thousands of people on their phones, where they are, at their computers, per month. It will not make sense 100 percent of their time.
For example, Allred said, a county request for bids on a major construction project could save public money by reaching more potential contractors who may be interested in the work.
Another example could come in publishing legal notices regarding delinquent taxes that need to be paid, which could generate additional revenue to the county.
"There will be times when it makes more sense to just meet legal requirements for the lowest possible cost. If what you're trying to do is publicize a bid request and reach a large audience, you don't want to do it for the lowest possible cost to the smallest possible audience. It doesn't make good advertising sense," Allred said.
County officials said they were interested, but some questioned if they could spend money on advertising beyond what state law requires. Elgin said each type of advertising would have to be researched to determine if the function allows for spending beyond the statute.
Commissioner Marilyn John said she would submit examples to Elgin for written opinions. She also said she would speak to the County Commissioner Association of Ohio in hopes of discussing potential updates or changes to the state law.
Also on Tuesday, commissioners accepted the resignation of Richland County Transit board chair Holly Troupe, voted to have Vicki Shook replace her and also voted to fill the opening on the board with Mansfield resident David Yoder.