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Official decision

Ely City Council reaffirms vote for the Timberjay

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/21/19

ELY– Following a month of controversy over the issue, the city council here opted by a 5-1 vote to stick with the Ely Timberjay as the city’s official newspaper for 2019. The decision, which is …

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Official decision

Ely City Council reaffirms vote for the Timberjay

Posted

ELY– Following a month of controversy over the issue, the city council here opted by a 5-1 vote to stick with the Ely Timberjay as the city’s official newspaper for 2019. The decision, which is expected to save the city thousands of dollars in legal printing costs this year, was in line with the recommendation of a city task force that looked into questions about the bids the city received from both the Timberjay and the Ely Echo.

“We decided to reaffirm the original award of the legal publishing in 2019 to the Ely Timberjay due to there not being any substantial reason to reject their bid,” said council member Albert Forsman, who served with fellow council members Paul Kess and Heidi Omerza on the task force. The group, which also included city attorney Kelly Klun and clerk-treasurer Harold Langowski, met on Friday, Feb. 8 to discuss the matter and make a recommendation to the council.

“This decision has not been taken lightly,” Forsman continued. “There were minor discrepancies that were explained to be simple oversights. This is the way that we are going to have to address this now.” He suggested that council members could alter the legal publishing bid process in the future. “For this year, this is our recommendation.”

That decision did not sit well with Echo General Manager Nick Wognum, who criticized the city council for not allowing him to attend the task force meeting or even allowing him to know who was on the task force. “That was either intentional or sloppy, you pick,” he said. The Ely Timberjay was also not made aware of the task force meeting date.

Wognum also maintained that the results of the task force meeting were never made available to the public. In fact, the minutes of the meeting, along with the names of members who met, were available to the public as of Friday, Feb. 15.

“Your communication skills are lacking,” Wognum asserted.

He complained that city officials “went out of town” to solicit a bid for the legal newspaper. The Ely Timberjay is one of three regional editions of the Timberjay published in the area. The Ely Timberjay is available in the city by subscription or is available at various outlets around the city.

“You ignored the facts or fit them into the conclusion you wanted to reach. That’s wrong, plain and simple,” Wognum said.

He accused city officials of not being fiscally responsible for also going out of town to obtain the services of economic development advisor John Fedo, from Hibbing. Wognum inaccurately put Fedo’s salary at $48,000 per year. In 2019, Fedo is being paid $3,500 per month for his services. “You didn’t ask for bids or proposals,” he said. “I know about that job. I did it for free in the early ‘90s. There are some pretty good people here that could do that job for less and save money.”

In fact, it was the city’s desire to save money that led to the city’s decision on its legal publishing, and which led to the 5-1 vote to stick with the Timberjay. Only council member Angela Campbell voted to reverse the decision.

Wognum, clearly unhappy with the council’s decision, walked out the chambers before the meeting concluded.

City resident Laura Butterfield spoke to the council during the open forum portion of the agenda at the end of the meeting. “I want to thank you for your vote to approve the bid made by the Timberjay,” she said. “I am not employed by either newspaper. Contrary to what the representative of the Echo said, you actually acted in the best interest of the taxpayers by saving us thousands of tax dollars this year. Thank you.”

Spiraling costs for official publishing

Since the Ely Timberjay had declined to submit bids for official newspaper the past two years, the Echo had raised its legal publishing rates for the city of Ely by 100 percent in 2018, which came on the heels of similarly huge increases in previous years. The price hikes not only caught the attention of some city officials, they may have also violated state law that appears to limit rate increases for public notices to just ten percent per year.

For decades, competition between the Echo and the Ely Timberjay had kept the city’s publishing rates in check. As recently as 2016, the Echo had bid just $5 to publish a small sample ad that the city has used each year in an effort to get apple-to-apple quotes from the city’s two newspapers.

But just two yearslater, after the Timberjay had declined to bid in 2017, the Echo raised its rates dramatically, charging $17.40 for the same sample ad. The paper hiked that further, to $18.27, in their bid submitted to the city in January of 2019. That’s a 365-percent increase over the past three years.

Concerned about the astonishing rate increases from the Echo, some city officials urged the Timberjay to offer a bid. The Timberjay submitted a bid that was largely in line with previous years. That same sample ad that the Echo wanted $18.27 to publish would cost the city taxpayers just $8.85 in the Timberjay.

For a story in the Feb. 15 Ely Timberjay comparing the cost of legal publishing between the two newspapers, the owner of the Echo was asked by email to justify growing advertising costs to Ely taxpayers. Anne Swenson did not reply to the Timberjay.

Instead, in a column in the Feb. 16 Echo, Swenson admitted she didn’t know the difference between a pica and point in the legal publishing business. “Oddly enough, the city of Ely never specified a type size for display advertising nor did they direct any complaint or request to us about ad print size,” she wrote. “No discussion was initiated by the city to make the Echo aware of any dissatisfaction on its part. That seems odd unless this is all politically motivated.”

The last time the Timberjay served as Ely’s official newspaper, back in 2014, the newspaper billed the city a total of $4,766 for legal publishing for the year. In 2018, with its newly increased prices, the Echo billed the city just over $21,000, and that didn’t include the cost of printing things like city envelopes and stationery. With the Echo’s latest rate hike instituted for 2019, the city’s taxpayers could expect to pay more than $22,000 for the same amount of publishing with the Echo.

Taxpayers can expect to pay about $6,000 with the Timberjay based on the newspaper’s 2019 quote, a difference of $16,000.

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