News

City wants a new official legal newspaper

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

A surprise was in store last week for the 18 members of a stakeholders group formed by the City Council to propose changes to Federal Way’s permitting process.

Ostensibly responding to concerns raised by the stakeholders group, the council approved new criteria Feb. 4 that would make Federal Way’s two weekly newspapers -- the Mirror and the Federal Way News -- ineligible for the designation of the city’s official newspaper of record.

The new policy likely would increase the city’s cost of printing official public notices.

The city plans to select a new official newspaper by the end of next month.

“The stakeholders group didn’t recommend that (the city) change the newspaper,” said Bob Couper, one of the stakeholders. “We certainly don’t want to do anything that would harm or do anything negative to a Federal Way business. That wasn’t our recommendation in any shape or form.”

The city currently prints all its official notices and display advertisements in the Mirror. Prior to the Mirror’s selection in 1999, the Tacoma News Tribune served as the interim newspaper of record following the 1998 closure of the Federal Way News, which was then owned by the Seattle Times. The News has since resumed publishing under new ownership.

With the planned switch in April from the Mirror to a daily publication, the $24,626 the city paid to the Mirror in 2002 could climb to as much as $37,366, according to city officials. Printing some legal notices in both the Mirror and the News Tribune, as suggested by the city clerk, would increase the cost to more than $44,000.

Official notices are published twice, one week apart, to satisfy the legal requirement of giving the public access to certain types of information. Types of notices required to be published in the city’s official newspaper include grant availability, land-use, ordinances, public hiring and rate changes in hiring. Other notices pertaining to bids and vacancies are required to be published, but not necessarily in an official newspaper.

“If I were to try to understand why the Legislature created this whole thing (legal newspaper legislation) in the first place, it was (to determine) what is the best way to get this notice to the people who need to get it,” said Chip Holcomb, assistant state attorney general. “The main purpose is to provide notice.”

The desire for change apparently came from a variety of sources. City administrators point to the stakeholders group, while several members of the stakeholders group claim it was the administrators’ idea.

“I never expected that they would do this,” said Couper. “I didn’t realize they were going to do that, so I am on it right now like stink on garbage.”

The issue first arose last year, when the council formed the 18-member stakeholders group to study ways of improving the city’s permitting process.

Among the recommendations were 13 changes to expedite the permitting process, including the suggestion that the time lapse for official notifications could be reduced if the city’s official newspaper was changed from the Mirror, which publishes Wednesdays and Saturdays, to a daily newspaper.

“This came out of the stakeholder process,” said city manager David Moseley. “It was an idea that they wanted to look at as a way of streamlining the permit process.”

Moseley declined to offer specific examples of instances in which a developer or business has been harmed by the maximum four-day delay in publication, calling it “more of a general feeling.”

Members of the stakeholders group, however, claim the issue was mentioned more by city officials than the group itself. Two stakeholders –– Chris Carrel, executive director of Friends of the Hylebos, and Susan Streifel, chief executive officer of Woodstone Credit Union –– said that changing the newspaper was not a primary focus of the group. Neither said they could remember who brought up the idea, or any instances of expressed support by group members.

Rather, Streifel said she believed the recommendation initially came about through a suggestion made earlier by a consultant hired by the city.

Another stakeholder, Rod Leland, who heads construction projects for Federal Way Public Schools as director of facilities services, said the Mirror’s twice-weekly publication dates have worked “just fine” for the school district.

“It’s been an issue a couple of times, but only when the timeline to get it out to bid is extremely close,” said Leland. “It really hasn’t been that big a problem. We’ve just built our calendar based on the publication dates.”

In addition to requirements set by City Hall, the designation of a city’s official newspaper is governed by state law, which states the newspaper:

• Must be published regularly, at least once a week, in the city.

• Must have been published in the city for at least six months.

• Must be compiled in whole or in part in an office maintained at the place of publication.

• Must contain general news.

• Must hold a second-class mailing permit.

The Mirror meets the state’s requirements and is qualified as a legal newspaper in King County, said publisher Debbie Kaufman.

There are no daily newspapers with a base of operations within the Federal Way city limits. Of the four papers comprising the majority of the city’s daily-newspaper readership -- Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, King County Journal and the News Tribune -- only the News Tribune operates a small Federal Way office.

That office is “just a spot for the reporters –– I think two or three –– to go,” said Gary Peterson of the News Tribune’s research department. “If you were to knock on a door, there wouldn’t be an answer. It’s just a place for them to sit.”

Moseley said city officials don’t believe that maintaining an office in Federal Way is a requirement of the RCW.

“Our law department has looked at it and feels that all four of those (daily) papers would meet the requirement,” Moseley said.

Citing smaller cities in eastern Washington that don’t have the means to support a newspaper, Federal Way city attorney Pat Richardson said statutes and case studies indicate that the place of publication of an official newspaper doesn’t necessarily have to be within the city limits.

“The real intent behind this is to ensure that you’ve got the circulation to get the notice out to the citizens,” said Richardson. “That is the real crux of the statute.”

The News Tribune numbers in excess of 4,000 subscribers and newsstand sales each day in Federal Way. The Mirror, by contrast, has a circulation of 30,400.

The Times, the Post-Intelligencer and the Journal were not immediately able to provide circulation figures limited to Federal Way. However, none of those publications submitted bids to become Federal Way’s official newspaper during the last selection process in 1999.

Kaufman said the public will have less access to the information in legal notices if they’re published in newspapers with lower circulations in Federal Way than the Mirror. The issue is the public’s right to information, not the Mirror’s own business role with the city, she said.

“I am concerned that the businesses and citizens of Federal Way are losing their voice if they don’t know about an upcoming public hearing, building permit, changes in ordinances and so on,” Kaufman said.

Recognizing the Mirror’s high circulation among Federal Way residents, city clerk Chris Green wrote in a Jan. 24 memo to the council’s Finance, Economic Development and Regional Affairs Committee that “one possibility of keeping the general public informed is to publish abbreviated legal notices and display ads in the Mirror as appropriate.”

Circulation numbers aside, Richardson said the city’s main concern is “not the fact of the circulation in this situation, it is the fact that it is not published daily.”

One stakeholder, speaking anonymously, said the contract for printing legal notices should remain with the Mirror because of its prominence as a hometown newspaper. He said he didn’t recall being consulted on the proposal of switching to a daily newspaper.

Staff writer Jody Allard: 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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