The Rogers County Board of Commissioners has requested District Attorney Janice Steidley determine if the Claremore Daily Progress is complying with state law in the rates it charges the board for legal advertisements.
The commissioners acted Tuesday after Chairman Kirt Thacker claimed the newspaper had overcharged for legal ads but did not provide evidence to back up his statement. He said he based his contention on information obtained from the Oklahoma Press Association website.
Thacker explained Thursday the board is looking into the matter as stated during the meeting on Tuesday.
Rates charged for legal advertisements are established by state law. Bailey Dabney, publisher of the Daily Progress, said the paper’s legal ad rates are based on the cost formula outlined in the law.
“The most likely scenario is that Mr. Thacker has no idea how to calculate the cost of legal advertisements,” said Dabney. “We would be more than happy to instruct the county commissioners on the rates set by state law and how they are billed.”
The Daily Progress is one of four newspapers in Rogers County that publishes county commission legal notices. The others are the Oologah Lake Leader, Chelsea Reporter and Inola Independent.
Thacker said at this point the errors, which have been found are only with the Claremore Progress.
“I am looking at the billing of all publications,” Thacker said.
All newspapers are required to charge the same rates, as set forth in state law.
Assistant District Attorney David Iski, who attended the board meeting, recommended the commissioners meet with each of the papers to get more information about their billing practices for legal ads “before you go down the path of looking for violations.”
But Thacker insisted the district attorney’s office review only the Daily Progress, and that the commissioners should consider taking action on what the review turns up.
Thacker said Thursday he believes it would be unnecessary to get the “players” together to discuss what the law requires.
Thacker and the newspaper have been at odds since last year over news coverage of the county commission’s handling of bids and the selection of vendors. In December, the commission reduced the volume of legal advertising in the Daily Progress, rotating legal notices equally among all four papers in the county even though the Daily Progress’ paid circulation is larger than the combined total of the others.
Dabney said the Daily Progress publishes legal advertising for several government entities in the county — including the cities and school districts of Claremore, Verdigris, Catoosa, Chelsea, Foyil and Oologah — and none of them have questioned the accuracy of the paper’s rates.
“It makes you wonder why the chairman of the county commission is seeing what others are not,” said Dabney. “We have the best legal advertisement clerk in the state working at the paper. She carefully measures every legal ad and bills according to the rates required by state law.”