The Clark County Councilors have repaid the Columbian Newspaper for its support, and in so doing, may have broken Washington State law.
On the April 5th board meeting of the County Councilors, one of the agenda items was to approve the 2016 contract for publishing legal notices. Washington State law requires that County legislative authorities shall “shall let the contract to the best and lowest responsible bidder, giving consideration to the question of circulation in awarding the contract, with a view to giving publication of notices the widest publicity.”
The reason for selecting a newspaper as the paper of record is for the publication of legal notices. The Washington law requiring legal notices to be published in the county paper of record is an archaic one which doesn’t acknowledge the variety of modern media available with which to communicate to the County residents. Nevertheless, it’s quite clear and leaves no room for interpretation. It’s an unfunded mandate that serves no useful purpose in today’s digital age. Seriously, is there one human being in this county who reads the legal notices in the newspaper?
So in order to meet the requirements of the Washington law, Michael Westerman, the County Purchasing Manager, published the request for proposals from the County newspapers. Four responded, and two, the Camas-Washougal Post Record and the North County News (a subsidiary publication of the Columbian) were disqualified immediately as not meeting the circulation requirements of the law.
The choice came down to the Reflector and the Columbian. The Reflector penciled out as the clear choice, with a weekly circulation of 28,218 and a cost of $1.02/$0.84 (First insertion/subsequent insertions) per line. The Columbian was considerably more expensive with a lower circulation of 24,152 and a cost of $1.77/$1.45 (Mr. Westerman corrected an erroneous circulation figure published in his bid memo during his testimony). At an objective glance, the choice seemed clear. Response from Columbian and Reflector.
The Reflector serves primarily the mid to north Clark county, doesn’t have a heavy editorial bias, and generally avoids endorsing political races. The Columbian is well-known as the mouthpiece for the Clark County liberals and groupthink agenda of the local establishment, has been harshly critical of the previous conservative County board of commissioners, and endorsed Marc Boldt in his run for County Chairman.
Then the kabuki theater began. Mr. Westerman made the case that the Columbian was the preferred choice, on the flimsy basis that they were a daily paper, while the Reflector was a weekly paper. He claimed that the delay in publication interfered with the County’s business, although he didn’t give specifics of exactly how this interference manifested itself, or how often it was a problem. He cited figures from contract periods where the Columbian vs. the Reflector had been the paper of record to show that the County actually spent more for the Reflector, but admitted that the comparison was basically worthless because there was no way of knowing the volume of notices that had been published in the two contrasting periods. Mr. Westerman’s willingness to go on the public record with this sort of foolishness may be attributed to his impending departure as purchasing manager.
Councilor Mielke pointed out that the Reflector had been the paper of record Since July 2015 without incident, and that there was no need for daily publication of legal notices. Councilor Madore observed that the Reflector served the portion of the County populace that was most concerned with the actions of the Board of Councilors, since incorporated areas (the cities) of the County were much less affected by Council decisions. This was confirmed by Councilor Olsen, who observed that 11,476 of the Columbian’s subscriptions were in Vancouver, meaning that the Reflector’s circulation is actually double that of the Columbian among the target demographic.
Councilor Olsen went on to try to make the case that since the Columbian is a daily paper that the circulation was actually 179,172 deliveries per week (no idea where this number came from, must be common core math). This lame argument somehow confuses deliveries with customers. Legal notices are published once. Does the daily circulation of a paper to the same customers put more potential eyes on a legal notice than the weekly circulation of a paper with at least 4000 more readers? Somehow it does in Councilor Olsen’s mind. Is she really that stupid, or is this argument a smokescreen to obfuscate the obvious agenda, that the liberal majority of the Council seeks to reward their friend Lou Brancaccio, liberal Editor in Chief of the ailing Columbian?
The Columbian was a powerful factor in the election of Councilors Olsen and Boldt, with its ability to influence the opinions of many otherwise uninformed voters. The arguments made in favor of choosing the Columbian as the paper of record were weak, thinly disguised justifications for an obvious quid pro quo between the Councilors and the Columbian. Debts must be paid, after all. The value of this contract can easily run into six figures a year.
The vote was 3 to 2 to select the Columbian over the Reflector as the paper of record, beginning July, 2016. The dissenters were councilors Madore and Mielke. Washington Law is very prescriptive about the factors to be considered when choosing a paper of record. Frequency of publication is not mentioned as a determining factor, nor was that information even solicited in the request for bid. The Reflector is clearly superior to the Columbian in the factors cited in RCW 36.72.075 by any objective measure. It is the opinion of us at ClarkCounty.info that a crime has in fact been committed, and the corrupt and arrogant actions of the liberal majority of the council to reward the Columbian for its support in the election has exposed the County to a lawsuit on behalf of the Reflector, the damages of which will further impoverish the County.
The underwriter of County’s liability insurance policy is no doubt paying close attention to these shenanigans. Don’t be surprised if they raise the rates based on the increased risk exposure from the group of clumsy political back-scratchers currently running the council.
Printed legal notices in hardcopy newspapers is an archaic way of meeting legal requirements. They’re virtually unreadable due to the volume and density of print. The Washington Association of Counties (WASAC) has been lobbying the legislature to replace this obsolete law with one that provides more up to date media notices to better notify concerned citizens. Until this happens, the most prudent thing for Counties to do is follow the law and select the lowest qualified bidder with the highest circulation. This calculus is a simple mathematical evaluation, devoid of any subjectivity. Your County Councilors voted 3 to 2 to spend nearly twice as much for between 15% to 50% less effective circulation. Their hands are firmly in the cookie jar, trading favors for political gain. Curiously, these politicians apparently believe they won’t be challenged on this overt corruption. On this point they’re quite mistaken.
ClarkCounty.info’s mission is to expose this sort of corruption wherever it’s found.