As a legal requirement, cities in Kansas — indeed counties and school boards as well — must designate an official paper. The purpose of this is to make certain the public knows where to look for legal notices.
The main reason those entities are required to publish these notices is what we in the industry call “public interest.” That the public have the opportunity to see exactly what their representatives in local government are up to.
Generally speaking, municipalities (in Kansas, any taxing entity is a “municipality”) designate the newspaper with the largest circulation in their area to make sure the largest number of eyes has the opportunity to see the legals.
It came to our attention earlier this week that it had been suggested to the Frontenac City Council that they designate two newspapers as “official” — both the Morning Sun and the Mulberry Advance.
Now, while the Advance meets the strict regulations of Kansas Statute — the paper publishes at least 50 times a year and is in Crawford County. Even in Mulberry, the Morning Sun reaches 25 percent more subscribers than the Advance, and overall has more than 80 times the total readership. It becomes difficult to understand the reasoning here.
We must stress that no action has been taken on this, and it is not clear that it would be legal to designate two papers, however we must question what public interest would be served by publishing “minor” legals in another paper. Who decides which are “minor” and which are not? How is that determined?
Moreover, the optics here are bad. We do not believe either the Frontenac City Council or the person who made the suggestion have nefarious intent, but running some legals where they are unlikely to be seen suggests something to hide. Again, we don’t believe this is the case here, but given recent history in Frontenac we suggest the council should be careful of appearances.
For us, the issue comes down to our watchdog function and the public interest. Neither our ability to keep a weather eye on local government, nor the public’s right to know what that government is up to, is served by placing legal publications in a place where they are unlikely to be seen by the people that government purports to serve.