The Anoka County Board’s decision at its first meeting of the year in January to designate the Anoka County Record, rather than the Anoka County UnionHerald, as its legal newspaper is opposed by the League of Women Voters ABC.
Susan Anderson, president of the LWV ABC chapter, made a presentation at the County Board’s Management Committee meeting March 10.
No action was taken by the committee, which comprises four members of the seven-member County Board, although County Commissioner Robyn West, the committee chairperson, was absent.
According to Anderson, the board’s decision – which came on a 6-1 vote, with County Commissioner Jim Kordiak opposed – lacked transparency and denied citizens their right to know because legal notices in the media are designed provide information on upcoming public hearing, bid advertisements and actions of the board to ensure the public record is accessible.
The Record has a circulation of 426, which is 26 above the state law requirement for a legal newspaper, while the UnionHerald’s circulation is 4,750, 12 times higher, Anderson said.
The County Board is not following the law’s intent to inform citizens, she said.
The UnionHerald has a long history as a local newspaper in Anoka County, and people could see in black and white what’s going on in county government, Anderson said.
The UnionHerald also has a strong presence in county, while the Record is very hard to find, including its website, and its circulation would not even cover every household in the county’s smallest city, Hilltop, she said.
While the Record may have submitted a lower cost bid than the UnionHerald, the county should have compared apples to apples in terms of circulation, according to Anderson.
“The numbers don’t come out,” Anderson said. “The value is different.”
In Anderson’s view, the state law requirement that the county has to take the lowest responsible bid is subjective, she said.
“The UnionHerald has been here a whole lot longer and has a pretty good reputation,” Anderson said. “The intent of the law is to inform people.”
The Record’s publisher, John Kysylyczyn, has been controversial both personally and professionally and “seems to like to sue at the drop of a hat,” she said.
In addition, she said that Kysylyczyn was involved in a couple of board members’ election campaigns. That speaks to the reliability of the action, Anderson said.
According to Anderson, the Record does not list a street address as its place of business in its publication, only a Columbia Heights post office box number, even though state law requires a legal newspapers to list an office of issue.
But on its state legal newspaper application, it named a building in Fridley as its office, yet there is no sign outside to indicate its presence where people could conduct business, Anderson said.
“You can easily find and see the UnionHerald office,” she said.
According to County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, who chaired the committee meeting, the Record took the county to court last year because the board designated the UnionHerald as its legal newspaper, even though it would have cost the county less to approve the Record.
The problem with the Record’s bid was that it did not meet specifications and the court sided with the county in the lawsuit, Sivarajah said.
“We have to look at price per column inch in the bid specifications, not make an arbitrary decision,” she said. ECM Publishers Inc., which publishes the UnionHerald, should go back and sharpen its pencil to compete in the bidding process, Sivarajah said.
The Record is easy to find and read online and covers a wider geographical area in the county than the UnionHerald, she said. Copies of the Record are found at the city halls and libraries in the eastern part of the county, but issues of the UnionHerald are not, Sivarajah said.
According to County Commissioner Matt Look, those opposed to the Record being designated the county’s legal newspaper based on its low circulation should go to the state of Minnesota to get the legal newspapers law changed.
“We made our decision based on criteria laid out in state law,” he said.
County Commissioner Scott Schulte said an attempt now to change the County Board decision was no longer timely; it would have to have been made by a board members on the prevailing side at the meeting following the vote.
Anderson said this is the first time she has had an opportunity to appear before board members because there is no open forum “where we could be heard” at County Board meetings.
The board met its legal obligations necessary under state law, said Schulte, who added that the circulations of both the UnionHerald and Record were abysmal.
Kordiak said it’s all about transparency, and the county should take a look at the process for next year and carefully weigh considerations like public input.
Sivarajah said the county has to be consistent and she is not willing to go back to the situation of being arbitrary.
“Taxpayers save a lot of money when there is a little more competition,” she said.
Money should not be the only consideration in government, Anderson said.
According to its website, LWV ABC is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government.