The cause of this is attributed to Sedgwick County’s recent decision to print its legal notices in the Wichita Eagle instead of the Derby newspaper. This quaint practice of publishing legal notices in newspapers is mandated by state statute. The best thing to do, of course, would be for Sedgwick county to post its legal notices online, something it could do right now at very low cost. (I don’t think they have them online. At least I can’t find them.)
The county should also post these notices online in a way that search engines such as Google can find them. The way the legal notices are posted in the Wichita Eagle is very difficult and inconvenient to use. My experimentation also tells me that the notices are not visible to Google and other search engines.
This means that the residents of Sedgwick County — and the City of Wichita too, as its notices are published the same way — are missing out on a very useful way of reading legal notices. Also, they’re not able to use tools like Google Alerts. This very useful tool can automatically notify you when something appears on the Internet that you’re interested in. I make extensive use of these alerts.
But this is not the entire story. The decision of the county commissioners went against the recommendation of the Board of Bids and Contracts. The vote was three to two, with commissioners Kelly Parks and Gwen Welshimer in the minority.
Estimates are that the switch to the Eagle will cost the county about $50,000 more each year. So what was the reason for the commission voting against this board?
The reasons stated by commissioners Dave Unruh and Tim Norton and former commissioner Tom Winters in the minutes of the meeting had to do with increasing the visibility and readership of the notices. As I’ve shown above, the best way by far to increase readership and visibility is to post the notices online. The county would still, it appears, have to publish them in a newspaper, which means that the Derby Reporter would be best, as it is the low-cost provider of this service.
So this reasoning strikes me as a little hollow. Put the notices online, if the commissioners want to really increase their availability.
There may be two reasons why this switch was made. First, sources tell me that the Eagle hired former commissioner Ben Sciortino as a lobbyist. Here’s how the Eagle’s now-defunct Hall Monitor blog described Sciortino’s new business venture on April 25, 2007:
Former Sedgwick County Commissioner Ben Sciortino is now working from the other side of the commission bench. The man who lost his seat in November to Commissioner Gwen Welshimer is now starting up his own lobbying business: Sciortino & Associates. … “After eight years in the county, I have a very good idea of how things work,” Sciortino said. “I have maintained excellent relationships with the electeds on both sides of the street. If a company needs help with a zone change or help lobbying a particular item, that’s what I’ll do. … Probably more companies than everyday citizens because I probably won’t come real cheap,” Sciortino said with a chuckle.
Then, there’s something potentially more disturbing. Around the time of this decision, Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan was in contention for the job of Wichita City manager. The Wichita Eagle strongly endorsed Buchanan for this job on its editorial page.
Could the Eagle’s endorsement of Buchanan be related to the county’s decision to switch their business to the Eagle? At least one person thinks so. In a news story Derby paper considers suing county, KSN television reporter Jessica Oakley reports this:
Bush [Derby Reporter publisher Kent Bush] believes it’s all politically motivated.
“After an endorsement of Bill Buchanan on a Sunday, the next Thursday he goes to the bid board, which he appointed, and made a 10-minute presentation on behalf of The Eagle,” he said.
It’s important to remember that Bush has an agenda, perhaps even an ax to grind. Both Buchanan and the Eagle have denied a connection.
The Wichita Business Journal has more reporting in the story Wichita Eagle beats out Derby newspaper for county contract, but fight is brewing.