The September and October editions of The Bel Aire Breeze featured front page articles headlined, "Save The Breeze". Both stories blasted the City of Bel Aire for voting to terminate paid advertising of legal notices in the Ark Valley News (sister publication of The Breeze) and opting instead to publish these notices on the City’s website. Both articles should have been headlined, “Save Strunk Publishing,”. The September article focused on the papers’ financial interests -- while failing to fully explain the City’s reasons for discontinuing the paid legal notice advertisements.
For context, understand that the privately owned Strunk Publishing company produces The Ark Valley News and The Bel Aire Breeze from a business location in Valley Center, not Bel Aire. Ad revenue from the Ark Valley News apparently helps to underwrite The Breeze. The publisher claims The Breeze’s very survival is threatened because the Ark Valley News is set to lose Bel Aire’s annual ad revenue of roughly $10,000.
In an effort to save its ad revenue, Strunk Publishing has launched a petition drive. The sole question on the ballot will ask voters to accept -- or reject -- the City’s decision to discontinue its paid legal notice advertising and instead post notices on the City’s website.
The proposed wording for the ballot question is written in legalese, but the gist is that a “yes” vote will approve the City’s decision to discontinue its legal notice advertising and utilize the City’s website for these notices – while a “no” vote will force the City to continue paid legal notices. (Please note the City spends an additional $6,000 to advertise in The Breeze, a contract that is unaffected even if the City discontinues legal advertising in the Ark Valley News.)
There are 6,388 registered voters in Bel Aire. The paper needs 151 signatures on its petition to trigger the mandate for a Special Election, pursuant to the Kansas Constitution. If that small fraction of Bel Aire voters signs the petition, all Bel Aire taxpayers will be on the hook for the more than $10,000 to conduct such an election – and the cost could be higher depending on voter turnout. Unfortunately, taxpayers will foot the bill for an election whose sole purpose is to force the City to continue feeding the profits of a privately owned newspaper.
Make no mistake, Bel Aire is not the only community in Kansas seeking to end its paid legal advertising. Since the Attorney General Opinion No. 2023-5 on July 26, 2023, second and third class cities began to consider their own policies. Andover, McPherson and Hillsboro have already voted to opt ad of paid legal ads in favor of their own city websites.
Paid newspaper ads don’t increase public “transparency” -- as the paper claims -- because only paid subscribers have access to them. The Ark Valley News has published our legal notices for 17 years, and only recently agreed to post these notices on their website for free.
The City’s decision to move these legal notices to our website is NOT a financial issue -- $10,000 doesn’t make or break our budget. Our decision is about improving transparency and timeliness of notifications. In fact, our system can send you an email or text when any new notice is posted on the website.
So, if you are asked to sign Strunk Publishing’s petition, consider this: While we all want to support local businesses, it’s not the City’s responsibility – nor the taxpayers’ – to underwrite private businesses. In a free-market society, private businesses should thrive or fail through their own skills, products, services, and marketing savvy. Bullying customers into buying services is a poor business model.