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Our View: The curious case of the Illinois Press Association

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Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine

The IPA was founded in 1865 as an organization for Illinois publishers. It has evolved into one of the largest state newspaper association in the country representing more than 450 daily and weekly newspapers.

The IPA agenda focuses on a “wide array of legislative, business, advertising, educational and legal services, according to the IPA web site.  The IPA is governed by a board of directors of 15 newspaper executives representing an equal number of weekly and daily newspapers from regional districts.  “The Board of Directors determines the legislative and business practices that are carried out by the IPA’s staff”, according to the IPA web site.  “The IPA provides professional education, government access and newspaper advertising promotion to members. They also provide assistance for Newspapers in Education and literacy programs, education and promotion of the First Amendment, information on evolving technology and new media, and “hot button” seminars.”

The West Suburban Journal reached out to the Illinois Press Association in 2016 about a municipal matter of Public Notice.  Attorney Don Craven, of Craven Law Offices, represents the IPA and its member newspaper’s in legal and legislative matters.  Craven recently added to his title, IPA, Interim Executive Director.

The West Suburban Journal presented Craven the matter of the Village of Maywood publishing Legal Notices in a newspaper other than West Suburban Journal.  Edwenna Perkins, Mayor, Maywood expressed concern to West Suburban Journal about resident complaints they are not made aware of government activity and decisions.  Perkins stated, “The village attorneys [Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins], said we do not have a local paper to advertise Public Notice. Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins are generous political contributors to Karen and Henderson Yarbrough.  Craven responded, “what newspaper does the village publishes its municipal notices?”  Nicole Trottie, publisher, West Suburban Journal answered Craven, “The Chicago Sun Times”.  Following three or 4 emails and telephone exchanges about the matter, Craven directed West Suburban Journal to advise the village on the consequences of not publishing municipal notices in the legal paper of record.  Craven stated, “There are cases that stand for the proposition that if tax notices are not properly published, and the taxpayer pays under protest, the Village cannot collect the taxes.”

West Suburban Journal ran Craven’s “advice” by other counsel.  The attorney is an expert in municipal and Public Notice law, to add he appeared before the U.S. Supreme court.  To Craven’s advice the attorney commented, “He told you that… that’s not true.”  The attorney added, “Did Craven also tell you that he represents the Chicago Sun Times.” Add to our shock a week later when a bill arrived from Craven Law Offices in the amount of $250 for “legal services” rendered.

In a follow-up email to Craven, June 21, we posed several questions for comment on the WSJ, June 14, editorial Public Notice Transparency.  The questions pertain to a recent email by the IPA to member newspapers about Public Notice “best practices”.   The email called attention to a recent campaign raised by the IPA, Threats to Transparency and Public Notices:  Best Practices.  Enclosed in the email are talking points:  1) “Understanding Public Notice” 2) “Not taking them [Public Notice] for granted” 3) “Not treating them [Public Notice] like entitlement”.

Our email to Craven follows:

“Hello Don, I am writing with a follow-up question to an email we received by the IPA, last week, June 14, titled Best Practices for Public Notice Letter.  Could you please provide comment to the… statement in the second paragraph regarding Public Notice… “Not treating them like an entitlement”

 “As the Interim Executive Director of the IPA, and an attorney, can you expound on the (need for) the statement?”

“…with regard to Best Practices, do you believe or not that Legal and Public Notice best serve the community and citizens by publishing in local newspapers of which the legal matter originates?”

“If a municipality has an accredited local paper do you believe Legal and Public Notice intended to serve an individual located in the municipality is best served through awareness by the local municipalities newspaper?  Please provide your supporting reasons.”

To our interview request, Craven replied, “Nicole, unfortunately I am bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct, and given that you have publicly stated that you have retained counsel, I am no longer able to communicate directly with you.  I would be more than happy to discuss any legal issues with your retained counsel.  However, at no time did the West Suburban Journal implicate the IPA a defendant in a law suit.

Nicole Trottie, publisher, West Suburban Journal, served voluntarily, 5 years, on the IPA Executive Board of Directors.   During which time, West Suburban Journal was a dues paying member.  The combined annual membership dues and contributions to the IPA “Legal Defense Fund” paid by WSJ to the IPA, from 2009 – 2015, total more than $7,500.  Do our dues not qualify West Suburban Journal under the IPA mission statement to receive at no charge reasonable member “legal services” and, at the very least, free legal advice.

Craven’s decision to withhold comments citing “Rules of Professional Conduct” is plausible, and begets the question, where was Craven’s Rule of Professional Conduct and Ethics applied when WSJ informed him that Maywood municipal notices are published in his client’s newspaper – the Chicago Sun Times.

The West Suburban Journal presented Dan Haley, publisher, Wednesday Journal, Oak Park River Forest and The Village Free Press, Maywood, with similar questions:  “As a Board Member of Cook County Suburban Publisher’s, who governs the distribution of Pubic Notice, are you aware that Wednesday Journal of Oak Park River Forest published 85 percent, or more, of Maywood Public Foreclosure Notices, distributed by Cook County Suburban Publisher’s between 2015 and 2017?”  Haley not surprisingly replied, “Not interested.”  Those who also did not respond include; Sandy McFarland, CEO, Law Bulletin and Executive Board Chairman, Illinois Press Association; Sue Walker, Cook County Suburban Publisher’s – Hyde Park Herald, Executive Board Member, Illinois Press Association; Josh Sharp, Asst. Director Government Affairs, Illinois Press Association; and Cindy Bedolli, Illinois Press Association.

Gene Policinski, Chief Operating Officer, First Amendment Center, Washington D.C. Bureau and USA Today, founding editor, weighed-in on Public Notice transparency.  Policinski said to Trottie in an interview last Thursday, “The purpose of Public Notice is intended to alert citizens that something is to affect them.”  Policinski said that Public Notice “should publish in local newspapers which impact the community”.  “It’s important to know what government is doing…from change in zoning laws, bids, health care debate to foreclosures.” he said.

Policinski admonished the use of Public Notice as a political tool.  “Never was Public Notice intended to provide elected officials or others the license to operate on their own provisions,” he said.

He added, “Never was Public Notice intended as a mechanism to reward or punish.”  “It is intended to serve transparency and information to citizens.”  Policinski said of Public Notice origin, “Historically Public Notice was implemented into law so that government and authorities did not operate in secret.”.

The West Suburban Journal renounced its IPA membership and dues this year.  Others have followed suit.  As far as we’re concerned, with the exception of a few well-intended board members, the IPA can take their membership dues and stick it where the sun don’t shine!

Gene Policinski is Chief Operating Officer of the Newseum Institute and of the Institute’s First Amendment Center. A veteran multimedia journalist, he also writes, lectures and is interviewed regularly on First Amendment issues.

Policinski, a founding editor of USA Today, oversees all programs of the Newseum Institute and also is a longtime proponent of diversity in journalism as an essential characteristic of a free press. He speaks and writes regularly on news gathering and reporting, newsroom diversity and on journalism ethics.

Policinski co-writes the weekly, nationally distributed column, “Inside the First Amendment.”

Gene Policinski, Newseum Institute, and  First Amendment Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

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