Four weeks after appointing the Gig Harbor Life as the city’s official newspaper, the reversed itself one last time Monday night and returned the title to the Peninsula Gateway.
The April 11 decision stemmed from the council’s conclusion that the Kitsap Sun publication didn’t qualify as an Official City Newspaper for Gig Harbor at the time it submitted its bid for the role. It also ended a selection process that had turned into something of a competitive tug-of-war that left the council scrambling to respond fairly to challenges made by both newspapers.
“The whole thing was kind of embarrassing and we certainly were part of the problem,” said Councilman Derek Young.
The council hadn’t been adequately versed on the Washington state rules and qualifying criteria governing official newspaper selections, he and other council members acknowledged.
But up until this year, it never really had to be. By law, the city must designate an official paper in which to place notices of public hearings and other city-related matters. Typically, it bids out a new contract every two years and contenders must meet criteria laid out in RCW 65.16 in order to qualify.
The Gateway has easily won the designation in past years largely because other bidders, includingg the (Tacoma) News Tribune, were always too costly to be considered serious contenders, said Young.
Gig Harbor Life changed that by submitting a bid that was half that of the Gateway’s. It then challenged the council’s initial vote favoring the Gateway, saying state law required the council to choose the lowest bidder.
Although this was false, the council broke with precedent on March 14 and voted down a motion to approve the Gateway and awarded the contract to Gig Harbor Life due to its low bid and wider direct-mail circulation of 17,000. Gateway subscribers number about 9,000.
Two weeks later the Gateway volleyed back with its own challenge. A council agenda notice for Monday’s meeting noted that the Gateway was asking for yet another review of the appointment because Gig Harbor Life “did not meet the criteria of a legal newspaper . . . They are not included on the Pierce County Superior Court list of legal newspapers; a requirement of RCW 65.16.040.”
Although Gig Harbor Life had officially been added to the list by the April 11 meeting, councilman Tim Payne essentially said the designation had come too late.
“It’s clear to me that the official newspaper has to be one certified by the Superior Court and anyone who is bidding would have to meet that criteria upfront,” said Payne. “We’ve made yet another mistake in this process, so unfortunately I have to rescind my vote in favor of Gig Harbor Life.”
His motion to appoint the Gateway was unanimously approved.
The contract isn’t as lucrative as it once was. Before the recession, the city was being billed $30,000 to $40,000 annually for its public notifications, Young said. Last year, the total was just over $10,500, with most of that cost re-billed to developers and other interested parties to legal notices.
Mike Stevens, who oversees Gig Harbor Life, said the paper “will be back to bid” the next time the contract comes up for renewal, probably in a year.
What remains to be seen is whether the Gateway will cut its bid in order to keep its official newspaper status.
“When you have competition, bids come down,” said Young. “I’m guessing there will be some pencil sharpening the next time around.”