“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”
This quote from Sir Walter Scott came to mind on January 3rd as we watched the Delaware County Board of Supervisors leadership bob and weave to avoid carrying out their duty to appoint two newspapers of record (one designated by the Republican party, the other by the Democratic party) to publish county legal notices.
To the average county resident, this may seem like a minor piece of housekeeping business. But dig deeper and look closer and you’ll see that yesterday’s convoluted process is part of an ongoing effort to break with tradition — if not the law — to shut out The Reporter from publishing the County’s required legal notices.
The result? The Reporter, the newspaper located in the county seat — with the largest circulation in Delaware County — will no longer carry legal notices regarding county business, including requests for bids on contracts involving thousands of taxpayer dollars.
The public will be deprived of basic information on how the county conducts its business and spends our money. The Reporter is the one newspaper in the county which participates in a consortium that publishes the notices statewide, so competition for county business will now be limited to those who are in the know, or who read the Hancock Herald or the Mountain Eagle.
The Herald is located in a far corner of the county and, in fact, it’s website attests that much of its readership is in neighboring Pennsylvania! A map on the Eagle’s website shows that less than a third of its circulation area is within Delaware County and the paper’s coverage leaves out all the towns west of Delhi.
The procedure for choosing these official publications wasn’t just wrongheaded, it may well have been in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law. Here’s how:
The Delaware County Democratic Committee unanimously passed a resolution designating The Reporter as the party’s newspaper of record for 2024. As in years past, a letter was mailed to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, informing the board of the decision and a copy was sent to Wayne Marshfield, the senior Democrat on the Board. We anticipated that Mr. Marshfield would present the resolution to the County Board of Supervisors at the reorganization meeting in early January for their consideration and anticipated approval — as had been the result for decades.
Instead, the County’s Legislative Committee met on December 6, created an unprecedented split in the types of legal notices to be published, County legal notices vs political notices, then wrote and approved a resolution designating the Hancock Herald and the Mountain Eagle as the newspapers of record for County legal notices. Huh? What happened to process? What happened to transparency? What happened to our letter to the Board?
Back to January 3, and the county’s organizational meeting. When the infamous Resolution #5 designating the Hancock Herald and the Mountain Eagle came before the Board for a vote, Wayne Marshfield valiantly and eloquently challenged the action and made the case for the Reporter’s inclusion as one of the county’s newspapers of record. His concerns were brushed aside, and he was informed by the County Attorney that the Reporter has “taken itself” out of consideration as a county newspaper of record. Apparently, this was discussed at some point, maybe in executive session, which could be in violation of the state’s public meetings law. It didn’t appear that the full Board of Supervisors knew about the decision to exclude the Reporter. Certainly, the Democrats on the board did not get the memo.
Resolution #5 was approved — without the support of the Democratic supervisors. When Mr. Marshfield asked about the Democrats’ wish to designate the Reporter, the Chair informed him that he would have the opportunity to designate the Reporter as the Dems newspaper of record toward the end of the meeting.
Double Huh? Sure enough, the Reporter was designated as the Democratic newspaper of record. What does this mean? It means that the Reporter will now only publish political notices regarding elections, a small fraction of the County’s required publications. Countywide legal notices, public meeting notices, contracts up for bid, and such will now only appear in the Herald and Mountain Eagle. This unprecedented action of splitting the newspaper designations into two types and two processes was done without any discussion or explanation provided to the Board of Supervisors and certainly no consultation with the Democratic members of the board.
So, we were treated to a shell game, a convoluted series of maneuvers designed to deprive the county’s largest newspaper of revenue from publishing most of the county’s legal notices. More importantly, the result of this game will leave the county’s taxpayers in the dark about important business.
Why go to all this trouble? Why is the BOS creating such legal problems for itself? How is this concerted effort to remove legal notices from the newspaper with the widest circulation and news coverage in the county of any service to us taxpayers? We, the public, are left to scratch our heads and draw our own conclusions. One thing is certain – our County has further jeopardized its position as a government dedicated to upholding freedom of the press and transparency in carrying out the people’s work.
What’s to be done? How about rescinding Resolution #5 and the arbitrary division of legal notices? Allow the Republican Party to designate their choice of newspaper(s) and the Democrats their choice. Publish all the countywide legal notices in both those papers. And if the Republicans want to choose two smaller newspapers to balance the Democrats’ choice of one large paper, that’s fair and legal. Then all legal notices of all kinds go to all corners of the county. No one is left out and freedom of the press is encouraged across the county. Simple. Let’s do that.
Delaware County Democratic Committee
The above was submitted by the DCDC to our area newspapers on January 9, 2024. For more information, links to state law text and previous press regarding this issue, use the button below to read our previous post.