John and Faith Wylie have prepared documents outlining their understanding of the controversies about publishing Rogers County Commission minutes and claims (payments). Here are those documents:
This document was presented to the Commission at its special meeting on Jan. 15 by Faith Wylie. This document merely outlines concerns about possible mischarges for county legals. Any final conclusion would require a formal, official audit. The document is broken into two memos because the file size is large:
This document summarizes the recent history of Commission proceeding publications:
COUNTY LEGAL NOTICES
By John M. Wylie II, Publisher and Editor
You may have heard rumblings about things that are usually a routine part of county government and the newspaper business—publication of the minutes from each week’s commission meeting, of the bills the county (taxpayers) pay each week, and bid notices for major purchases.
State law requires publishing the minutes and claims in a newspaper so you, the taxpayers, can supervise your elected officials without having to spend hours each week attending meetings. Bid notices let you, the taxpayers who ultimately pay all the county’s bills, get the best price and quality possible for everything you buy.
State law also sets a standard low price for publication of all legal notices so that newspapers do not overcharge citizens.
There is also a conflict between two state laws.
One says that if the total spending for a product or service exceeds a certain amount, the cost per unit (a pound, a line or word of newspaper space, or whatever) must be bid. But the publication law sets a very specific price. (See the memo at Oologah.net for details).
For decades, Rogers County used a bid system to determine the cost paid for publishing the weekly minutes and claims. The legal newspapers would submit bids and any of them who would honor the low bid was put in the rotation for publication, each with an equal number of months. The bid prices were as low as $2 an inch, well below the legal rate or any of the newspapers’ normal classified rate.
After Bailey Dabney became publisher of the Claremore Daily Progress, he objected. He demanded that the county pay the higher legal rate set by state law. Dabney also claimed to have calculated a per-inch rate that he alleged was equivalent to the state rate, which is expressed in words or in lines of type but not in inches. That change was made in June 2010.
Then commissioners, who were trying to make sure as many citizens as possible had access to the information, decided at Dabney’s behest to give the Progress the publications year-around and rotate a second publication by quarter among the four weekly papers.
However, paying a higher rate and publishing in two newspapers each week greatly increased the county’s costs. The following fiscal year, the county published its minutes and claims only in the Progress.
Dabney claimed his circulation exceeded that of the other papers combined; figures which he has never publicly documented. He also claimed that because his was a daily newspaper, it had priority for all publications; he has produced no law or court rulings to support that position.
In calendar year 2013, the commissioners went back to a rotation system so that information could be provided to as broad a range of citizens as possible. The four remaining legal newspapers in the county (Claremore, Inola, Chelsea and Oologah) each published the public notices for three months.
In following county expenditures, we saw discrepancies in some bills for publications. We asked questions and pulled records. In November we privately shared our concern with the commission chairman that the Claremore Progress might have misbilled for commission minutes and claims it published from June 2010 through March 2013.
Because of this concern, the Leader had suggested that public officials:
• Require itemized billing for publication of legal notices that include the basis for the charges either by word, line, other quantitative measure or rate, something that the Claremore Daily Progress did not do in the invoices we audited.
• Require that required legal notices be billed at the state-set word or line rate rather than a supposedly-equivalent inch rate.
At a meeting Jan. 15, Faith Wylie publicly presented the results of her informal spot audit and suggested that a formal audit be done. Commissioners Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm voted to suspend the Progress from the rotation for 2014.
Dabney complained that the commissioners “would love to punish us in any way you can.” He accused the Leader of acting to promote its financial interests.
After a lengthy meeting later in the week, Dabney and reporter Salesha Wilken persuaded Thacker to change his position. That was based on a series of promises to pursue better and more open relations with the commission, Thacker said.
The Commission changed its vote on Tuesday, Jan. 21, restoring the Progress to the rotation.
So why are we writing so much about an issue that has basically been settled, at least for another year?
Because we are concerned about financial issues—those facing the taxpayers. Those are the only financial issues we are pursuing in this case. We all benefit if the county gets charged a fair price for quality work. That is all we are trying to ensure. We just want all newspapers to follow the same rules using a level playing field.
We recognize that budgets are tight and preserving revenues are important at all newspapers, including ours and the Progress.
Over the past 30 years, you’ve always been willing to tell us what you think and to let us keep digging if we have concerns. If you have any questions or concerns, we’ve always done our best to answer them.
That will continue.
John and Faith Wylie