Recently, there has been some discussion on how a newspaper is selected to advertise the Cecil County property tax sale and I wanted to clarify some of the key points that go into the selection process. The qualifications are found in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Article 1, Section 28(a) and it’s pretty restrictive as to which publications would qualify to advertise the legal notices. One of the more stringent qualifications include that the publication “Is entitled to be entered as second-class matter in the United States mail”. This requires that at least 50% of the publication’s distribution are to those who have paid more than a nominal price. This makes sense because it’s the subscribers of a newspaper that make it the newspaper of record rather than a publication making a gazillion copies and then giving them away for free. The County's Attorney, Norman Wilson, provided his legal opinion that he believed The Guardian was a newspaper of record because they had a Judge's opinion to support this but later admitted Judge's do make mistakes.It didn’t take away from what is actually the law and that is what Mr. Wilson was supposed to research. He was tasked with researching what qualifies as a newspaper of record. He called 1-800-Ask-USPS and received a clerk's opinion. After I called the same number the clerk admitted he really didn't know enough about this issue and referred me to USPS Consumer Affairs and I spoke with Belinda Yates who verified that second class matter is now a periodical permit. I also found an opinion from Judge Bell that referenced free newspapers (those not receiving more than 50% of their revenue from subscriptions) are not newspapers of record. Because The
Guardian is actually free and doesn’t have a periodical permit, they do not meet the qualifications to advertise legal notices. Another point is that the County’s responsibility is not only to determine who is legally qualified but also which publication is the most qualified. As public servants, we would not be looking out for the public’s best interest if we chose a publication just on bid price alone. We also have an obligation to make sure we select the publication which most effectively reaches the public so they will have an opportunity to pay off their property taxes before it goes to tax sale.