DES MOINES—The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday, Nov. 15, reaffirmed a Jan. 9, 2018, vote by the O’Brien County Board of Supervisors to name The N’West Iowa REVIEW and The Sheldon Mail-Sun as the county’s two legal publications.
The REVIEW and The Mail-Sun, which are owned by Iowa Information Publishers and Printers of Sheldon, have been designated as the county’s official newspapers since 2005.
The 2018 decision by the supervisors was challenged by Marcus News Inc., which owns the Paullina-based O’Brien County’s Bell-Times-Courier and the Sanborn Pioneer newspapers.
That company requested its two publications be treated as a combined entity for the sake of the county contest.
With the county having a population of less than 15,000 as of the 2010 Census, the supervisors have to designate at least two newspapers published in the county as official publications, which publish the county’s legal proceedings for the year.
Iowa Information became an intervenor in that civil case last year, which slowly crawled through the state’s court system — each time favoring the supervisors’ decision based on the Iowa Code and previous district court rulings — before Friday’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling.
Marcus News has 14 days to request a rehearing of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling.
The high court disagreed with the company’s argument that two newspapers should be treated as one as they serve the same geographic area, noting 94 percent of the Sanborn Pioneer subscribers live in the northern part of the county while 92 percent of the Bell-Times-Courier subscribers live in the southern part of the county.
“The location of subscribers strongly suggest that these two papers serve different geographic areas,” Justice Brent Appel wrote in the ruling.
Another argument presented by the legal representatives of Marcus News was that 37 subscribers of The Mail-Sun and 28 subscribers of The REVIEW had less than one-year subscriptions and those 65 subscriptions should not be considered.
In its argument, Iowa Information noted even if those 65 contested subscribers were removed, its lowest-circulating newspaper still would exceed the highest-circulating newspaper published by Marcus News.
The court agreed with that reasoning.
“The challenge of Marcus News to 65 Iowa Information subscribers, even if upheld, would not be sufficient to alter the result here, as the largest Marcus News publication would still have fewer subscribers than the smallest Iowa Information paper,” Appel wrote.
“As a result, we find that Marcus News is not titled to relief on this ground.”
Marcus News owner Mari Radtke could not be reached for comment. A staff member who answered the phone at her Paullina office said she was not available and calls to the Marcus Office and her cellphone were unreturned.
Iowa Information founder and publisher Peter W. Wagner shared his thoughts on the ruling.
“Our purpose has always been to serve the communities of O’Brien County and our readers in the best possible way,” he said. “We feel this decision is right for everyone involved.”