John F. Kennedy once joked that when he named his brother, Robert, to be his attorney general, he wished he could have just opened his front door in the dead of night and whispered “It’s Bobby” before closing the door again.
Washington County, for all intents and purposes, has just done that.
On Monday, the county placed a legal notice in the Valley Independent newspaper, based in Westmoreland County, seeking requests for proposals from firms to handle a property tax reassessment in Washington County. They are legally obligated to place such notices in newspapers of “general circulation” in their community. But we ask: Why would you place a notice in a newspaper that has about 5,700 paid subscribers in Washington County, as opposed to one that has close to 28,000 subscribers?
Although we, obviously, have a dog in this fight – legal notices are a source of revenue for this and other newspapers – we also believe legal notices fulfill a vital function in informing taxpayers and voters about what their government is up to.
Scott Fergus, the county’s director of administration, said the Valley Independent charges less money for its legal notices. But the actual difference is nominal; however, because they purchased a three-day run in the Valley Independent, rather than the two-day run that would have been required in the Observer-Reporter, they ended up paying 33 percent more. Also, Fergus explained, the notice is merely the fulfillment of a legal requirement – they are not expecting any firms that would carry out a reassessment to come from within Washington County.
Nonetheless, stashing a legal notice in a newspaper on the far fringes of the county is following the letter of the law but certainly not its spirit.