Claremore Daily Progress

January 16, 2014

Commissioners ban most legal ads in Daily Progress

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE —

The Rogers County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday to no longer publish its legal advertisements in the Claremore Daily Progress, except when the immediacy of the information require using the daily newspaper.
The decision means nearly all of the commission’s advertising will now rotate between the county’s three weekly newspapers —  Inola Independent, Chelsea Reporter and the Oologah Lake Leader — even though their combined circulation does not equal that of The Daily Progress.
The commissioners also tried to extend their decision to other county offices, such as the county court clerk, assessor and treasurer. But Judge Dynda Post advised them that they did not have the authority to do that and Assistant District Attorney David Iski, counsel to the commission, agreed.
“You don’t have the powers to tell the county officials where to publish,” said Post.
Legal ads are required by state law to be published in local  newspapers to alert public throughout a county to such activities as contract bids, property disposal, financial information and other activities of government.
Commissioners Kirt Thacker and Mike Helm voted to exclude The Daily Progress from receiving legal ads, except in emergency notice cases, after Faith Wylie, a co-owner of the Oologah Lake Leader, accused the Claremore paper of overcharging for two legal ads in 2010. Commission Chairman Dan DeLozier dissented.
Bailey Dabney, publisher of The Daily Progress, strongly objected to the decision, saying it was based on the allegation of a competitor, and not an official review of the paper’s charges for legal ads placed by the commissioners.
Thacker and Helm have been at odds with the newspaper over its coverage of the commission’s awarding of county contracts.  In December of 2012, they voted to remove about $55,000 in legal ads from The Daily Progress. The latest action will affect another $20,000 to $30,000 in legal ad revenue the paper traditionally receives, said Dabney.
Thacker said Wylie contacted him about what she claimed were overcharges by The Daily Progress. Wylie said she has been concerned about the issue for years, and conducted a spot audit of the paper’s rates on several ads, coming up with two examples of overcharges.
Rates charged for legal advertisements are established by state law. Dabney said The Daily Progress follows the cost formula outlined in the law.
“I have offered to sit with you and go over this in the last few months and you have never asked and you have never presented any of this information to me,” Dabney told the commissioners, adding that he only received Wylie’s rate calculations and accusation of overcharges right before the meeting on the matter.
“You can determine whatever you want from a hand count from someone who stands to gain financially,” said Dabney. “A system that does this for newspapers all over the country determined what the ads are worth.”
Wylie and her husband, John, were the subject of a Daily Progress story three months ago reporting that a communications company owned by the couple had received $8,000 from District Attorney Janice Steidley to write press releases and do research. National ethics experts called the payments a conflict of interest because the couple also owns a newspaper that covers the DA’s office.