When the time comes each year for the Mitchell City Council to designate an official newspaper, there is often somebody who uses it as an opportunity to make a comment — good-natured or otherwise — about The Daily Republic.
The City Council is required by state law to designate a newspaper for the publication of legal announcements, and the council is required to pick a newspaper from within the county if one exists. The Daily Republic is the only newspaper in Davison County, so the council has no other option.
Like all other newspapers that I know of, The Daily Republic charges the city to publish those announcements. I guess you could say we have a mini-monopoly.
The situation doesn’t sit well with some council members, partly because of the monopoly and partly because there are always one or more of them who are miffed about news stories they consider negative or inflammatory. If a newspaper is doing its job, that sort of tension is always going to exist.
And so, many times when there’s a vote to designate an official newspaper, one or more of the council members and/or the mayor feel compelled to say something.
Last year, for example, Mayor Lou Sebert quipped "This is kind of one of those no-bid contracts we read about in the paper." He was referencing some reporting that had been done about so-called "no-bid" contracts in state government. I hate to admit it, but it was a pretty clever and funny jab.
This year, it was Councilman Scott Houwman’s turn. He didn’t say anything during the meeting, but he cast the only vote against designating The Daily Republic as the city’s official newspaper.
After the meeting was adjourned, I approached him and asked him why he voted "no." We had a 13-minute discussion, and I wrote a synopsis of that discussion for today’s newspaper. An excerpt from that synopsis is reproduced here:
… Houwman said afterward in an interview with The Daily Republic that he wishes the city "had another option," because he thinks competition would be beneficial and because he is unhappy with some of The Daily Republic’s coverage of city affairs.
Specifically, he cited the newspaper’s 2008 coverage of a development deal that involved an unidentified company’s pursuit of city-owned parkland, and the newspaper’s filing of an open-meetings complaint against the City Council for a discussion of the parkland issue that was conducted during an executive session. The state’s Open Meetings Commission ruled that the council did not violate any open-meetings laws, but the newspaper appealed the matter in civil court, and the civil case is still pending.
Houwman said he blames the newspaper for killing the 2008 development deal and believes the newspaper "owes the council an apology" for "pushing" the open-meetings complaint.
"It seems like to me, we’re always having to second-guess everything that we do, and The Daily Republic’s right there to say that we’re doing something wrong," Houwman said.
"I would like to think," he continued, "that it would be nice to have a publication that would be faciliatory to the agenda of the city."