What is the best way to reach residents when you are a county government?
Crow Wing County commissioners considered their options Tuesday and took into account state law when they were faced with multiple bids for the county's official printing and publishing business.
The Brainerd Dispatch, Crosby-Ironton Courier and Lake Country Echo in Pequot Lakes, put in a combined bid as primary publisher, which the board unanimously accepted after considerable discussion. One of the board's considerations revolved around legal obligations and what presented a qualified bid.
Newshopper Publications Inc., with a principal office in Aitkin, was awarded the bid as a secondary publication to publish the county's financial statement.
County Attorney Don Ryan presented the bid information to the board as Auditor Deborah Erickson has a conflict of interest as her husband is a Dispatch reporter. Ryan recommended the board accept the Dispatch/Courier/Echo bid as the most qualified. The Newshopper also presented a bid to be the primary publication. Once picked as a primary publication, the county must award a secondary bid to a different publisher.
Ryan said the Newshopper, which has an office in Brainerd, does not have its principal office in Crow Wing County. In determining the bid priority, Ryan said by state law the county can go outside the county to pick a primary bid. To be considered for the primary printing and publishing role, Ryan said the out-of-county bidder needed to provide third-party verification, at least 60 days prior, that it reached 75 percent of households in the county.
The Newshopper did not provide that information. Ryan said he was not sure about the bid by the Northland Press Inc. of Outing since he didn't have enough information about its circulation or frequency of publication to determine if it was a qualified bid.
"If they want the business they need to demonstrate they are a qualified newspaper and it's not our job to go out and try to supplement the information in their bids," Ryan said.
Commissioner Dewey Tautges said there is another consideration and that is which paper has the best circulation in getting information out to the public.
"I think that's the important thing," Tautges said. "I feel strongly the Dispatch does that."
Tautges commended the Newshopper's publication but said he only recently received it in the mail. When Commissioner Rosemary Franzen questioned the reason for a price difference in the bids, Ryan said that wasn't a discussion the board should get into as the bids should be considered as they were submitted and shouldn't be something the county negotiates.
"My dispute of this issue is legendary," said Commissioner Paul Thiede. "... I used to be an owner of the Country Echo. I've had this issue many, many years."
Thiede said he disagreed with the county attorney. Thiede said the Aitkin County experience, which used the Newshopper for its publications in 2007, moved away from the accepted Minnesota Newspaper Association standard and saved significant money.
Thiede said for years he's said the process is unfair and he was delighted there were numerous bids.
"I just think we are moving to a day of technology," Thiede said. "I would challenge anyone to say that if we gave the Newshopper this bid for these legal publications that that would have a significant impact on the public's information they receive. All of these are currently online. The technology is moving. We are fooling ourselves if we think we are doing this in the interest of the best public service. I disagree with that. And I acknowledge the great work the Dispatch does in getting the news out. I just have some difference of opinion."
Thiede said he believes the county could grant the primary bid to the Newshopper without any additional requirements on the bid, but perhaps not without facing a lawsuit.
Franzen asked for the information to be repeated about the requirement for 75 percent of households. Ryan read the state statute to the board.
Thiede said long ago he learned not to argue with people who buy their ink by the barrel. But he said the issue - much like farm subsidies - is a newspaper monopoly that can't be beat.
"It's much like my never getting to Congress because I won't play that game," Thiede said. "I would never like to play this game either and that's been my opposition but I don't intend to oppose this today."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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