ELY – The Ely Timberjay remains the legal newspaper for the city of Ely while the city attorney and a task group of three city council members investigate state statutes and the city’s home rule …
ELY – The Ely Timberjay remains the legal newspaper for the city of Ely while the city attorney and a task group of three city council members investigate state statutes and the city’s home rule charter on the issue.
In an effort to save taxpayers in Ely from skyrocketing legal publishing costs from another media organization, The Timberjay was urged by some city officials late last year to submit a bid for the annual contract to print legal notices.
The Timberjay, a regional newspaper with a main office in Tower, publishes separate editions of the paper in Ely, Tower-Soudan and Cook-Orr.
The Timberjay’s bid to publish Ely’s legal notices was about half of what The Ely Echo proposed to charge taxpayers. The difference in cost would almost certainly save the city thousands of dollars in 2019. The Ely Timberjay has served as the city’s official newspaper on several occasions in the past, when the paper maintained a commercial storefront. It stopped bidding on city publishing a few years ago after closing that office but has since cited the Ely editor’s home office as the Ely edition’s office of issue.
The Echo’s owners have pushed back on the awarding of the bid to The Timberjay at the Jan. 15 meeting and have argued that The Timberjay does not have enough subscribers in the city and does not maintain a business office here to qualify as the city’s official newspaper.
Five agenda items pertaining to the issue were discussed by the city council this week.
Mayor Chuck Novak said he heard lots of discussion about the issue over the past three weeks since the council took action to award the bid. “It’s a tough decision sometimes that we have to make as elected officials,” he said. “We have to pay attention to our oath of office and we have to be very careful when we are spending the taxpayersʼ money.”
He said the city council has to follow state statutes as well as the city’s charter, that is voted on by the residents. On the issue of determining the legal newspaper, the charter requires that the lowest bid from a responsible newspaper is to be accepted.
“Just changing the charter is not the simplest task in the world,” Novak said. Charter changes can be made by ordinance or referendum approved by at least 20-percent of registered voters. “When it comes to changes with a financial impact, let the people weigh in on it.”
In leading up to asking the city attorney investigate the matter further, he said, “That has not yet been determined that there is a conflict between state statute and the city charter. There has been no investigation. The charter has a specific clause that only the council can initiate an investigation, unless in criminal matters. We need to study this matter some more.”
He noted that both bids from the two media companies appear to be flawed. “We won’t know that until we have an investigation,” Novak said.
The Ely Echo General Manager made a request to appear before the city council and he reiterated his company’s claim that The Timberjay does not have a legitimate business office in the city, and therefore is not qualified to bid for the city’s legal publishing contract. He also contested The Timberjay’s verified circulation report as to the number of subscribers within the city limits and suggested that the paper had failed to submit its annual legal newspaper filing with the Secretary of State, citing a posting on the state website. The Secretary of State’s office confirmed on Wednesday that The Timberjay has submitted its filing but that the stateʼs website had not been updated to reflect that fact.
Wognum asked the council to rescind their action to award the bid for the 2019 legal newspaper contract to The Timberjay, and instead award the contract to The Echo.
City Attorney Kelly Klun notified the council that she did due diligence on the matter with The Timberjay publisher and provided his responses. “I don’t have any particular insight for you other than providing you the information.”
“The issue of verification of the (Timberjay’s) known office as well as 400 subscribers (in the city) is something that I don’t feel at this point I can provide a recommendation,” Klun said. “I would like to do further investigation relative to the Secretary of State notification. I understand that it is not on the website, but it should be verified. I feel more due diligence is required.”
The Ely Timberjay, in its annual publisher’s statement, reported more than 735 paid print circulation as of September 2018 within the 55731-zip code along with another 183 digital subscribers, in addition to out-of-area subscribers. Determining what percentage of those readers are within the city limits would be the issue for the city to determine.
Complicating the matter is the fact that The Echo’s bid clearly fails to comply with state law, which sets a minimum text size for legal publishing. The Echo’s stated text size is smaller than allowed by law, which has been an issue in the past. At the same time, city officials have also expressed concern in recent years that The Echo has run city display ads significantly larger than necessary, which has added to their cost.
Two resolutions for consideration were presented by new council member Angela Campbell. Novak pointed out that action requested for consideration should be in the form of a motion.
Campbell made a motion to reconsider the Jan. 15 vote of the city council to award the legal publication bid to The Ely Timberjay.
Campbell demanded that her original vote on Jan. 15 to award the legal publishing bid to The Ely Timberjay be rescinded.
Novak rebuked her. “Once a vote is called by the chair, it stays on the record. You can’t go back. They do that in the U.S. Senate. You can’t do it here.”
The motion to reconsider the Jan. 15 council vote was passed on a 5-1 vote with Novak voting no. Council member Heidi Omerza was not present at the meeting.
A motion by Jerome Debeltz to publish legal notices in both newspapers until the issue is resolved was defeated on a 3-3 tie.
Council member Ryan Callen said he could not vote for the motion. “Just to save the taxpayers money, we should keep it at just one publication right now,” he said. “Why spend extra money? Let’s find out what legal (counsel) has to say and then make our final decision.” Council member Paul Kess and Mayor Novak also voted against the motion.
A motion to task the city attorney to continue to investigate the matter and to work with a council task group to make a recommendation to the council was passed on a 6-0 vote. The task group members will be chosen randomly by the mayor.