End of the Road and On To New Opportunities
Back in 2011, Bryan Olson and I started this newspaper in response to concerns we had with the local newspaper industry. One issue was the continual low quality coverage of county, city council, and school board actions. We also felt that newspaper monopolies in certain areas were gouging local governments for the publication of public notices.
Anoka County happened to be a center for both. In our opinion, the Anoka County Union and Columbia Heights - Fridley Sun Focus papers contained some of the shallowest coverage of elected officials that we had ever seen. The free press is supposed to provide a check to the activities of government, instead of being in bed with them. We laughed when we would read “news” articles in these newspapers that clearly were written by government employees. A newspaper reporter just signed them, attempting to pass them off as independent journalism.
Over the past eight years, I am proud to say that Anoka County Record has maintained high journalism standards. No government employee has ever written an article for this newspaper or dictated what we should or should not publish. We have also placed complete and accurate information in the hands of the public, which has changed the outcome of policy decisions and several elections.
Concerning price competition, Anoka County Record made a major impact in our first full year in business. Prior to our entry into the market, Anoka County paid some of the highest prices for publication of public notices — five times more than Ramsey County. Much of the price gouging was due to a lack of competition. Once the Record had been in business for over a year, the Anoka County Union dropped their standard rate by 40%, and this year it was dropped by 80% for county government publications only.
I also have to give some credit for previous price gouging to Assistant Anoka County Attorney and Centennial School Board Member Kathryn Timm. She conveniently ignored public bidding requirements, to the benefit of the Anoka County Union. She erroneously claimed to me that she had the authority to, “spread around the business”, when it came time to awarding government contracts. Our efforts led the county board to strip her of any decision making authority over this issue.
Most cities and school districts never saw competitive price savings due to their own foolishness and obstinate behavior. All they have seen is continual price increases because they refused to take advantage of our lower prices. Had they changed publishers just once, prices would have dropped. The exceptions were Ham Lake, Nowthen, and Oak Grove. In Ham Lake, which has the greatest number of public notices published between the three cities, taxpayers saved between $25,000 - $50,000 over the past eight years. All three are good cities with solid elected leadership, and I am glad that I was able to provide them with a better publishing alternative.
Why I have chosen to move on to new opportunities, is a topic I should address at the very least in order to blunt the rumor mill in the county. My decision was one in the making for the past two years. It was based upon time, not profitability as the newspaper has turned a profit every year and would have again in 2018.
Time has been the primary concern, because in addition to being a full-time parent, I also own several businesses. The newspaper business has never been my primary occupation. My primary work has always been as a political consultant. This has included political campaign work in addition to serving as an executive director for issue oriented groups. The past few years, newspaper obligations have been competing with a significant increase in my political work. It is a simple issue of there only being so many hours in a day. There is no avoiding the fact that a newspaper business runs on strict weekly deadlines with no room for schedule flexibility.
Signing off for 2018, John Kysylyczyn, Owner & Publisher; Sara, USPS Circulation Manager; Michael, Local Circulation Manager
There are a lot of people to thank over the years and not enough space to express my gratitude. First and foremost a special thanks to all of our dedicated readers and customers. They made possible what many considered the impossible.
Two early customers deserve to be highlighted. They are the cities of Ham Lake and Oak Grove. Not only did they sign on as early customers, but also stood toe to toe against Anoka County Union general manager Tom Murray when he threatened to sue and bully them for doing business with us. One council member told us last week that he cancelled his subscription with them at the time due specifically to Mr. Murray’s unprofessional behavior.
I also wish to single out two members of the Anoka County Board of Commissioners for recognition. They are Commissioners Matt Look and Scott Schulte. Both commissioners spoke up consistently, loudly, and were unwavering in their support of a sealed competitive bidding process for awarding contracts for the publishing of public notices. They weathered multiple public attacks by small political groups and fellow commissioners for their desire to see that taxpayers received the lowest price and best value. They never once dodged a vote by skipping a meeting, or by abstaining from a vote under the guise of a manufactured conflict of interest claim. Commissioner Schulte spoke his mind at his very first meeting as a commissioner when he was blindsided by a last second resolution to pay more than the lowest price. They stood firm for taxpayers even though it created political difficulties for them.
From a free market perspective, one bright spot in 2018 is the newly-shown interest by the Star Tribune to offer a competitive pricing option for the publication of government public notices. That should keep a check on the Delaware company that owns the Anoka County Union, Blaine - Spring Lake Park Life, Forest Lake Times, and the Columbia Heights - Fridley Sun Focus newspapers. If it does not, I might have to start another newspaper.
In closing, I will continue to do work in the county through my other business obligations. I have already signed on to some new local projects that will be much less intense than owning and operating a weekly newspaper. For those of you whom I developed personal relationships with through the publishing of the Anoka County Record, I will continue to see you in the future.
P.O. Box 21014
Columbia Heights, MN 55421-0014
Columbia Heights, MN 55421-0014