County engineer Mike Short made the recommendation after reviewing bids that were submitted recently by the Eagle and The Corridor Messenger, a weekly newspaper based in Walker County.
“After analyzing the number of subscribers, the time that each has been in business and other things associated with the papers, I would recommend that we go with the Daily Mountain Eagle,” Short said.
Jack McNeely, publisher of the 142-year-old newspaper, congratulated the commission for its fiscal responsibility.
“I applaud members of the county commission for having the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing and award these notices to the Daily Mountain Eagle despite Probate Judge Rick Allison’s legal posturing in recent weeks,” McNeely said.
At issue Thursday was deciding which newspaper will publish the Qualified Voters List, Supplemental Voters List and Poll Workers List in coming weeks.
The Code of Alabama spells out which notices must be published in a newspaper of general circulation and establishes a timeframe for each.
“The biggest thing is to make sure that we don’t get into a situation where the voters are disenfranchised, and we have a lawsuit over the election,” county attorney Eddie Jackson said.
In March, Allison signed a contract with Messenger owner Ken Guin to run the election notices in that publication, which has a weekly paid circulation of approximately 800 compared to the Eagle’s daily paid circulation of more than 8,000.
The Commission has held several executive sessions regarding the election notices in recent weeks but had not held a vote to accept one of the bids when the first election notice was published in the Messenger on April 2.
Following a vote of the Commission in an emergency meeting on April 10, Jackson sent a letter to Guin stating that the Commission would not pay for any advertising regarding voter information until further notice.
Allison then filed suit in Walker County Circuit Court requesting an injunction that would have forced the county commission to pay for the notices.
On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Hoyt Elliott denied the request and ruled that the county commission should determine which paper publishes the notices.
Also on Wednesday, the Messenger published the Qualified Voters List and mailed 11,235 copies to its weekly subscribers and additional likely voters.
The article included a chart comparing the Messenger’s fee for running the list, $29,325, to the Eagle’s rate of $45,023.
A headline in Wednesday’s Messenger claimed that Allison had saved the county $20,000, and Allison made similar statements before the commission on Thursday.
“I was looking at tax dollars because of the financial situation that the county’s in,” Allison said.
McNeely noted in Thursday’s meeting that the Eagle’s bid package also included a less expensive option to print 19,000 inserts at a total cost of $29,849.
Allison admitted under oath Wednesday that he did not consider publishing the Qualified Voters List as an insert, which is a method of publication under state code 17-4-1 and would have made the newspapers’ quotes almost identical.
Jackson said Thursday that he could not assure commissioners that publishing the election notices as an insert would meet the state requirement.
“I read the statute that the insert complies. It’s pretty straightforward to me ... but there is a difference of opinion of whether the insert alone will comply with legal obligations,” Jackson said.
McNeely informed commissioners that there is precedent for publishing the notices as an insert. It is the method of choice in Coffee County, according to the Alabama Press Association.
“There is no doubt that full disclosure and transparency have taken a back seat to political maneuvering. Allison may claim that his intent was to save the county money, but his actions and numbers paint a different picture,” McNeely said following the meeting.
Jackson also said Thursday that it is not clear whether the Messenger meets one of the key requirements to be authorized to publish election notices.
“I think the question of general circulation is an open question,” Jackson said. “I think the question of general circulation according to the law is always a fact question driven by the facts of the particular circumstances on the ground at the time the question is asked. They may be a newspaper of general circulation, but they may not. That is one of the requirements, and we know that the Eagle is a newspaper of general circulation.”