Thursday, May 30, 2024

Skirmishing around the law provides huge disservice to residents

For the past five months, this newspaper has been battling a thorny issue of legal publication involving mostly a local school district and a pair of newspapers and to a lesser extent some local government entities.

We brought the issue to light last November when we exposed Triton Schools for failing to publish its legal notices in a legally qualified newspaper. It’s concerning to us that this issue has gone unresolved for many months with Superintendent Craig Schlicting and his school board members taking no action.

In fact, without Dodge Center City Administrator Lee Mattson stepping up to push the issue, it may still be unresolved. In December, Dodge Center’s city attorney Timothy Woessner determined that the Dodge Center Messenger was not a legal newspaper.

But that wasn’t good enough for the Messenger, who then pushed city officials to get another opinion. Mattson joined with Dodge County officials to get a second decision. Presumably caving to the pressure of the other agencies, at some point the school district tagged along. Guess what? Same conclusion came back, this time from a Twin Cities attorney. The Messenger is not qualified to publish legal notices.

In the end, our concerns were handled, and the proper decision was issued. However, the school district is still not compliant with the law, which is troubling to us.

At the heart of the issue was whether the Dodge Center Messenger is published once a month or not. Both attorneys who have investigated the issue say the Messenger has only been published once and has failed to meet many statutory requirements along the way. State law requires newspapers to publish at minimum twice a month in order to be considered a legal paper. The Dodge County Independent is a weekly newspaper and has served as a legal newspaper for decades.

Apparently, some newspapers seem to think they don’t have to follow the rules or in this case, state law. That has been clearly evident for the past nine months. The Messenger has repeatedly skirmished around the law by not doing what is required and that was clearly laid out in attorney Ann Goering’s report not just once but three different times. Despite having to lay out the facts repeatedly, Goering made it clear each time: The Messenger does not qualify as a legal newspaper.

Both attorneys have now mirrored the Dodge County Independent’s original argument that the statute requires that all conditions of being a legal newspaper be satisfied for 12 months prior to even being considered to be a legal newspaper.

What’s perhaps even more disturbing and perplexing is how a superintendent and school board members condone this behavior and think they don’t have to follow the law either. In this case, Triton officials and the Messenger newspaper were wrong and won’t admit it. And all the while residents of the district were provided a huge disservice by not having important matters published correctly in a legal publication.

In one particular case, a legal notice was supposed to be published by the end of August. It finally got published in early October. It’s still unclear to us what happens with all the legal notices that have been published in an invalid newspaper, or not published at all, since last July. In Triton’s case, this problem could have been resolved five months ago when we brought it to their attention.

We hope this issue will bring a renewed awareness to citizens about the importance of accountability by school districts and government agencies. Transparency has been severely lacking in this particular matter, and it makes us question what else the school district is hiding. Sadly, we may never know.

One thing is certain. The Dodge County Independent will fight for the truth and make government agencies and schools accountable for their actions. After all, it’s the cornerstone of our democracy and why community journalism is so important to keep intact.

 

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Dodge County Independent

Dodge County Independent
Dodge County ADvantage
301 S. Mantorville Ave.
Plaza 57 • Suite 200
Kasson, MN 55944

Dodge County Printing
301 S. Mantorville Ave.
Plaza 57 • Suite 200
Kasson, MN 55944

507-634-7503
 
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