Readers of Red Wing and Cannon Falls newspapers will not see public notices concerning actions by Goodhue County this year.
On Jan. 4, County Board members approved the Zumbrota News-Record as the official newspaper for legal and public notices – removing the Republican Eagle for the first time since at least 2005.
“I guess I'd be disappointed that the people in the northern part of the county won’t be getting legal notices in their newspaper,” Jim Johnson, managing editor for the Republican Eagle and Beacon, said during board discussion before the vote.
This now limits Red Wing and Cannon Falls residents’ access to the official notices from the county, including the list of delinquent property tax payments that are published every year.
“I’d be lying though if I said I had adequate Cannon Falls or Red Wing coverage,” Pete Grimsrud, Zumbrota publisher, told the board.
Commissioner Paul Drotos agreed that Grimsrud has a smaller circulation when compared to the Republican Eagle and Beacon.
According to the Minnesota Newspaper Association directory, the three newspapers have the following circulation:
Red Wing Republican Eagle, 4,551
Zumbrota News-Record, 3,265
Cannon Falls Beacon, 2,835
“While state law allows the county to choose a single newspaper, the county could have decided to run public notices in multiple newspapers,” Johnson said after the meeting. “With the board’s decision, the notices will go in 3,265 newspapers in the southern part of the county. Red Wing and Cannon Falls readers are shut out from seeing those notices. That’s more than 7,800 newspaper subscribers that will miss seeing the official notices from the county.”
Johnson added: “Government agencies should be striving for transparency in their activities. This decision reduces the transparency of Goodhue County government.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Zumbrota is not as big as Red Wing or Cannon Falls. Red Wing’s population as of 2019 is 16,338, Cannon Falls is 4,054 and Zumbrota is 3,426.
“Those population figures do not include the rural areas of the county,” Johnson said. “Our research shows 28,000 people living in the areas our newspapers cover. That’s more than 60 percent of Goodhue County residents.”
The Red Wing and Cannon Falls newspapers regularly cover county government meetings, Johnson said, the Zumbrota newspaper does not.
The decision was made to decrease costs from the previous year; however, both bids combined were below what the county was paying, according to Administrator Scott Arneson.
During 2005, a joint bid with the Red Wing, Cannon Falls, Zumbrota and Kenyon newspapers was accepted and has been in use ever since – with rates changing each year.
For the joint bid to be accepted, all newspapers need to agree to submit the bid together.
This year Grimsrud decided not to participate in the joint bid.
The joint bid rates for 2020 and 2021 included first insertion at $25.29 per inch and second insertion at $18.31.
This year’s bid rates:
Republican Eagle and Cannon Falls Beacon – first insertion at $13.80 per inch and second insertion at $9.66.
Zumbrota News-Record – first insertion at $8.50 per inch and second insertion at $7.50.
Because the Red Wing and Cannon Falls combined is higher than Zumbrota’s, the cost for printing the public notices is higher in those newspapers, Johnson said.
“I realized that a large section of the population is in Red Wing . . . I think we should still go with the low bid, and I think almost everything that we put in the paper is online,” Commissioner Brad Anderson said. “I just don't think we should spend extra money, as many people say nobody reads legals anyway.”
Johnson disputed that nobody reads legals.
“Finding legal notices online is difficult,” Johnson said. “That is why the state legislature requires them to be printed in newspapers with general circulation.”
Johnson noted that it would be possible for the county to advertise in all three newspapers by accepting both bids and the cost would still be lower than what was paid in 2021.
The combined price for all three newspapers would have been $22.30 this year, compared to the rate of $25.29 paid in 2021.