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City pays Globe Gazette handsomely for printing of public notices

The City of Mason City pays the Globe Gazette over $30,000 per year on average over the last six years for the printing of public notices, according to figures acquired from the City Finance department by NorthIowaToday.com.|The Globe Gazette in Mason City asked the City Council to be designated the “official publication of record for legal notices” in a December 10, 2010 letter from its publisher, Howard Query, to City Administrator Brent Trout. The request was granted by the City Council at its meeting on December 21, 2010.

According to a combination of City Code in Mason City and State code in Iowa (Iowa Code Sections 362 and 380), it is required that notice of an election, hearing, or other official action be published to a local newspaper.

This means that the City ends up paying the Globe Gazette quite a fee over the course of a year to publish this information.

According to figures acquired from the City Finance department by NorthIowaToday.com, the City of Mason City has paid the Globe Gazette $180,940.16 for the printing of City notices or other items since fiscal year 2005-2006. Averaged over six years, that comes out to over $30,000 per year.

As the City enters the budgeting process, the City Council has noted that times are tight and that, as Councilman Don Nelson noted, one of its goals is to “maintain a sound financial position.”

NorthIowaToday.com questioned the expenditure of taxpayer funds on the publishing of City notices to a print newspaper in an email to local and state officials as well as Query at the Globe Gazette.

We questioned the expenditure for several reasons:

  • The rise of the Internet and use of websites by City governments (MasonCity.net, for example)
  • The fact that print subscriptions is in sharp decline and at it’s lowest level since the 1940’s *(See source at end of story)
  • The fact that the print product of newspapers is not free to the public
  • Tough economic times with tight local budgets
  • Errors in print are very difficult to undo

NorthIowaToday.com posed the following question to all six City Council members and Mayor Eric Bookmeyer: “The City just spent thousands of dollars on a brand new website and it turned out great. Most everything the Globe Gazette prints is already on MasonCity.net, and if it’s not, it easily could be. This is a FREE resource, unlike the Globe print product, which is NOT FREE. Wouldn’t the public be better served with a section on MasonCity.net website listing everything the State law requires? Do you feel the PRINT reporting of local business is ESSENTIAL in any way?”

The following responses were given:

  • Councilman Jeff Marsters: “I only support the expense as a requirement by law. I would certainly agree that posting to our web page should be enough. I am in total support of changing the law and in fact the law is now outdated and really does no more than force financial support by taxpayers to a for profit business.”
  • Councilman Max Weaver: “I guess it’s required by law. There’s nothing official about the Globe Gazette. As a City Council member we need to show support for changing the law. I’ll put it on a future Council agenda for discussion and action. Let’s put City notices on our official website, MasonCity.net.”
  • Councilman Scott Tornquist: “I don’t feel like I have the information I need to offer an informed opinion. For example, I’d need a feel for the percentage of the population that relies on printed media for information pertinent to city government, either because they do not have ready access to the internet, or they are at an age that they are not interested in learning how to use the technology. The later problem will diminish with time (how much more time is needed?). The later is most likely driven by personal economic situations. And until changes are made at the state level, it’s really a moot point for local governments.”
  • Councilman Don Nelson: “I’m shocked that it’s that much. ($30,000+ per year) I didn’t know there was a fee involved. It should be looked at by the City Attorney (Tom Meyer), and he should be asked ‘Is this necessary?’ I’m going to pursue this.”
  • Council members Travis Hickey, Janet Solberg did not respond, nor did Mayor Eric Bookmeyer.

NorthIowaToday.com also posed the following question to State Senator Amanda Ragan and State Representative Sharon Steckman, and received no reply: “Could our State House and Senate look at changing this law and moving to electronic reporting of local business, to save the taxpayers this burden? Can you imagine the savings STATEWIDE on throwing out this law? Would you have an interest in raising this topic in Des Moines? Do you feel the PRINT reporting of local business is ESSENTIAL in any way?”

NorthIowaToday.com also asked Query at the Globe Gazette to defend the cost to taxpayers of the printing of City notices, and got no response.

Data from City Finance Department:

Expenses: FY 05-06 FY 06-07 FY 07-08 FY 08-09 FY 09-10 FY 10-11 TOTALS
North IA Media Group 15574 $16,129.42 $30,233.17 $43,000.84 $34,587.14 $23,815.98 $14,578.92 $162,345.47
North IA Media Group 15588 $767.11 $319.39 $43.05 $2,009.04 $4,982.16 $10,473.94 $18,594.69
$180,940.16

* Sources:
A report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations says that the newspaper industry as a whole is selling fewer newspapers since anytime since the 1940’s.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/business/media/27audit.html
http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2009/narrative_newspapers_audience.php

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