Council dug its own grave

The Ely city council backed itself into a corner by begging a Tower newspaper to bid on printing the city legals. Despite our best attempts to bail them out of their initial mistake, five members of the council plodded ahead like lambs to the slaughter.
What this issue is really about is who is serving the community as a business and who is operating out of a residence. The Ely Echo meets all of the legal qualification as an official newspaper. We have a known office of issue at 15 East Chapman Street.
Our employees come to work there, our customers stop in to place ads, renew their subscriptions, have photos made or order printing products. Twice a year we send a check to St. Louis County to pay our commercial property taxes. We support numerous organizations and events, because people know where to find us and they know we’ll do our best to help them out.
We ran a photo of what our competition claims to be an office. It is a house on Boundary Street. We did receive a complaint saying that running a picture of someone’s house could make them uncomfortable. That’s our point, it’s not an office, it’s a home.
Which, by the way, didn’t even have a home occupation permit at the time the bid was submitted. That location is not listed on the letterhead, it is not listed in the paper’s U.S. Postal Service Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation. Actually under complete Mailing Address of Known Office of Publication is listed 414 Main Street, Tower, MN 55790.
They admitted they were not a legal newspaper in the eyes of the State of Minnesota at the time of the bid opening. The council was told this. Their reaction? Dead silence.
A task force was appointed by the mayor after the Feb. 5 council meeting to look into this issue. After the council meeting the Echo asked to be notified of when the task force was going to meet so we could be in attendance. There was not notification, the meeting was never posted and the results were never shared with us. This is either intentional or sloppy. We received no communication from the mayor, clerk, council or city attorney since the Feb. 5 meeting.
Council meetings have been turned into de facto rubber stamping of non-public decisions with no discussion and zero debate
We now know several city officials contacted the Tower newspaper urging them to submit a bid. Think about that. Local appointed and/or elected officials went out of town to a business that does not pay taxes here and urged them to bid on a city contract.
But as taxpayers, both residential and commercial in the city of Ely, we would like to know which city officials contacted an out of town business on this issue. Are there other Ely businesses who do work for the city who should be worried about the same retribution?
There has been unrefuted evidence that the Tower newspaper did not meet the legal requirements to be a legal newspaper when it submitted a bid.
The Timberjay was not listed as a legal newspaper with the Secretary of State as required by state statute at the time the bid was submitted and voted on.
The Timberjay now claims a house is an office yet at the time the bid was submitted there was not a home occupation permit. The owner of the house came to city hall after the vote to apply for a permit. To blindly ignore this fact is more than troubling.
It raised the question, is the Timberjay now exempt from the laws of timely reporting and is the city administration and council condoning this disrespect of the law?
One council member has suggested to us that the city could include a “value determination” that would factor in what the city is getting in return. By including the number of subscribers, the decision would be an easy one. We have over three times as many subscribers in Ely and twice the newsstand sales.
The council was tasked with making the right decision and yet ignored the facts in order to fit the conclusion they wanted to reach. It’s wrong, plain and simple.
Fiscal responsibility is the reason we’ve heard from some council members. We reminded them there are many ways to be fiscally responsible, including working with a local business that supports your community and pays property taxes here.
If the council wants to be more fiscally responsible, why did the members vote to hire a guy from Hibbing at over $100 and hour and pay him close to $50,000 a year for economic development?
They didn’t ask for bids or even requests for proposals. How do they know there isn’t someone from our community who would do this job better and cheaper than $114 an hour? They don’t. Fiscally responsible? Hardly.
The council and administration back themselves into a corner. City officials made calls and practically begged the Timberjay to bid. To vote for the Echo’s bid would have been going against the calls they made to the Tower business.
The council’s action hurt a local business that pays $2,000 in commercial property taxes here. Our employees pay city property taxes on five parcels here totaling over $5,000 every year. The Echo has 10 full and part time employees who live and work in Ely.
Our employees have children who attend the Ely School District. We volunteer here, we shop here, we live here. The council’s action hurts a local business, it hurts local families and it’s wrong.
More people subscribe to the Echo, a lot more. There’s a good reason for that, we work hard to put out the best product we can week in and week out, 52 weeks a year. The paper from Tower only puts out 51 issues a year. Another reason not to send city taxpayer dollars out of town.
We are more than happy to compete on a level playing field. But that’s not what we have here. Our general manager spoke twice before the city council and asked for questions. Silence. Discussion by the council? None. This is government conducted behind closed doors.
We would like to thank the many people in Ely who have stopped in or called our office to show their concern for the legals staying in a local newspaper. To hear from so many people is truly heartwarming. We work hard every week to put out an Ely newspaper. Not that we don’t care about other communities, but our office and our heart is in Ely. It’s where we live, it’s where we work, it’s where our kids go to school. We vote here, we pay our taxes here, we have an office that’s open at least five days a week and sometimes seven.
Our hope is the council learns from this mistake and takes action to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We believe the public is best served by an open government that supports local businesses that are best suited to serve the taxpayers.