Potential Johnson County legal-notice deal may violate state law
The Johnson County Commission has moved one step closer to awarding the Kansas City Star and its sister publication The Olathe News a bid for legal notices despite the objection of two Kansas newspapers.
At a Thursday morning hearing, commissioners voted 3-2 to reject a protest from the Gardner News and The Dispatch, who argued that neither the Star nor the Olathe News meets the requirements set out by state law to serve as a legal publication for Johnson County. The issue at hand was competing bids for about $200,000 worth of annual legal advertisements. The Olathe News has an office in Lenexa but does not have a U.S. Postal Service periodical postage permit, which state law requires for legal publications.
Instead, the Olathe News has a “pending periodical postage permit,” according to Jody Hanson, a spokeswoman for Johnson County.
In an email to the Dispatch on Monday, Hanson said: “According to the U.S. Post Office, materials mailed under a pending periodical permit are in every sense handled and processed as periodical matter. Further, state law does not require the permit, only that the periodical be ‘entered at the post office as periodical class mail matter.’”
But attorney Ben Long of Schlagel Kinzer LLC, who represented the Gardner News and Dispatch, argued that a pending permit does not meet the requirements and that the pending permit had not been issued when bids for the legal notices were closed. In fact, Long wrote in a letter to commissioners, the permit wasn’t even sought until after the bid deadline.
Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, said state law doesn’t address whether a pending periodical permit is sufficient.
“I don’t believe any of these issues have ever been adjudicated,” Anstaett said. “We don’t really have any case law to point to on this.”
Representatives with the Star/Olathe News did not return calls seeking comment on the status of their permit application.
County officials favored the Star/Olathe News bid based on price and because of the publications’ greater circulation, Hanson said. The Star/Olathe News bid came in about $32,000 less than the bid by the Gardner News and The Dispatch. The Star entity has a circulation of about 72,000 in Johnson County, while the Gardner News and The Dispatch have a combined circulation of about 27,500, Hanson said. A large number of copies of the Olathe News are distributed as an insert of the Saturday edition of the Star.