Probate Judge Rick Allison is attempting to line the pockets of fellow Carbon Hill native Ken Guin by publishing 2014 election notices in Guin’s weekly newspaper rather than in your Daily Mountain Eagle.
Guin, a local attorney and former state representative, started his weekly newspaper in October 2007. We reported earlier that year that he received double-dipping salaries from two community college systems totaling nearly $100,000 per year from December 1999 to March 2007 while serving in the House.
Voters kicked the former majority leader out of the Alabama State House in 2010. Despite his lofty position in Montgomery, he was defeated in his attempt for a fifth term in House District 14 by a relatively unknown UPS driver by a better than 2-to-1 margin.
The decision to publish the upcoming election notices in Guin’s weekly newspaper does not make financial sense. Even though the State of Alabama has no “Paper of Record” laws, elected officials charged with investing your tax dollars should do so responsibly by publishing notices with newspapers of higher paid circulation.
According to his most recent Statement of Ownership dated Sept. 30, 2013, Guin’s paper claimed an average of 744 in-county subscribers and sold an average of 79 single-copy newspapers weekly during the preceding 12 months. Of the 3,050 he has printed every week at a Clanton press facility, on average nearly 2,100 are never sold.
On the other hand, the Daily Mountain Eagle has nearly 6,000 in-county daily subscribers and sells roughly 2,000 single-copy newspapers daily. Multiply these numbers by six publication dates and your Daily Mountain Eagle sells nearly 50,000 newspapers per week. By the way, we employ local folks to produce and print every copy here in Jasper.
Digitally, our website generates more than 70,000 unique visits per month while our Facebook page has more than 12,000 likes; both leading stats for any local online information portal.
In 2012, the former county commission, the funding arm for such notices, published election notices in both newspapers. The bulk of the election notice expense is a one-time publication of the Qualified Voters List, which publishes a few weeks prior to the primary election.
So this year Allison, who submits the notices for publication on the commission’s dime, said the commission would only publish such notices with one paper. “Great,” I thought. Certainly fiscal responsibility would prevail.
But then I realized that common sense would be thrown out the window. So I presented my argument to new members of the county commission during an open work session last month. I figured they would ultimately decide how to spend your tax dollars. And they responded favorably to publishing such notices in your credible Daily Mountain Eagle.
The commissioners were on board to do the right thing, just as Revenue Commissioner Jerry Guthrie did last year and again this month by publishing all three delinquent tax notices in the Daily Mountain Eagle.
In a testimonial for the Daily Mountain Eagle, Guthrie said, “My decision for this office will always be based on good business decisions, what’s best for our county, this office and with the best possible results I can get for what I spend. From my experience over the past 17 years of advertising legals, the effectiveness of advertising in the 142-year, well-established local paper certainly justifies the rate difference.”
But on April 2, Allison published the first election notice in the weekly paper without county commission approval. Unless you are one of only a few hundred folks that subscribe to the other paper, then you did not see it.
Allison actually requested that each paper submit a “bid” for the election notices. But the so-called bid request included no specs. In other words, he was asking each paper to offer additional courtesies rather than base his decision on actual paid distribution.
And when the county commission temporarily halted publication of such notices in the weekly newspaper and requested legitimate bid proposals, Allison balked again in support of Guin.
Within hours after the county commission announced last Monday morning that it would ask for a State Attorney General’s opinion regarding election notices and who ultimately has the final say in where they are published, Allison filed a frivolous lawsuit in Walker Circuit Court asking for an injunction that would empower him to spend your tax dollars as he sees fit.
He claims in the lawsuit that publishing the election notices in the weekly newspaper saves the county more than $17,000. Of course, our rates would be higher since we reach significantly more paying customers.
In fact, our legal rate of 35 cents a word is considerably lower than the state average for daily newspapers our size, according to the Alabama Press Association. Whereas, Guin’s reduced rate of 23 cents per word does not reflect the overwhelming variance in our paid audiences. Apples to apples, his rate, at best, should be one-ninth of ours, or only 3.85 cents per word.
If allowed to continue publishing notices in his newspaper, I suspect that Guin, for the third time in 18 months, will ask me to throw cash his way and provide a free, multi-year advertising credit for his law firm in exchange for him closing up shop. But that would not be fair to the local law firms that currently invest in our marketing services.
I suspect that he may just shutter the fledgling newspaper after running to the bank with your tax dollars one last time after the 2014 election season.
In the meantime, I am left to surmise only that the ongoing legal notice fiasco is a blatant attempt at backdoor politics; and apparently it is working.
Perhaps Allison just does not know better. Perhaps he is also thumbing his nose at the county commission, which cut budgets of all constitutional offices by 4 percent this year. Or, perhaps he just does not care since he will likely retire after this term.
I can assure you that this newspaper will not sit idly by while elected officials run roughshod over taxpayers, or at minimum allow someone to play them like a violin.
The revenue generated from these legal notices is not the issue for your well-established Daily Mountain Eagle. For us, it’s principle. It’s about what is right and what is wrong.
The voters of Walker County should demand better from the folks they elect to be good stewards of their hard-earned money. I was told many years ago by a man much smarter than most that the appearance of impropriety is improper.
The next required election notice is to be published by Sunday, May 4. I can only ask that county commissioners and the circuit court consider the message Allison is delivering to the taxpayers of Walker County – one of contempt and fiscal negligence.
Jack McNeely is the publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle and can be contacted by phone at 205-221-2840 or via email at email@example.com.