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AGLO 1976 No. 67 - November 04, 1976
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- NEWSPAPERS ‑- DESIGNATION OF OFFICIAL COUNTY NEWSPAPER

A newspaper which is published on less than a weekly basis may not be designated as the official paper of a county under RCW 36.72.010, et seq.

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                                                                November 4, 1976

Honorable Michael C. Redman
Prosecuting Attorney
San Juan County
P.O. Box 760
Friday Harbor, Washington 98250                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1976 No. 67

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have asked for our opinion with regard to the designation of an official newspaper for San Juan county under chapter 36.72 RCW.  In so doing you have first informed us that there are three newspapers currently published in the county.  One, known as the Friday Harbor Journal, is published once a week while a second, The Island Record, is published twice a month.  In addition, a paper known as the Orcas Sounder is also in existence but, apparently, it likewise is neither a weekly, semiweekly nor daily newspaper.

            Then, based upon the provisions of RCW 36.72.010, which we will set forth below, you have asked us two separate questions which we here paraphrase as follows:

            (1) May the Island County Record be designated as the official county paper, based upon a further indicated fact that it has been ". . . 'established, published and circulated in the county for at least six months. . .,'" even though that paper is published on less then a weekly, semiweekly or daily basis?

            (2) In the event of an affirmative answer to question (1), must the county commissioners wait until April of 1977 before so designating the Record as the official San Juan county newspaper?

            We answer question (1) in the negative thereby rendering consideration of question (2) unnecessary.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The statutes which initially bear upon this matter are RCW 36.72.010 and 36.72.020.  The first of these two laws reads as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "In all counties where two or more weekly, semiweekly or daily newspapers are published, the board of county commissioners, at its April meeting each year, shall let the advertising and official publication of all notices to the publisher thereof who is the best and lowest responsible bidder.  The board of county commissioners shall consider the question of circulation in awarding the county printing contract, with a view to giving such printing the widest publicity; and no newspaper shall be eligible as a competitor nor shall a contract be let to any newspaper, unless it has been established, published, and circulated in the county for at least six months, and has a general and bona fide circulation throughout the county in which it is published."

            The second statute, RCW 36.72.020, then provides that:

            "In counties where no newspaper is published, the commissioners shall cause the printing of the county to be done in some newspaper in the state, of general circulation in the county, and the newspaper to which such contract is let, shall be designated as the official newspaper of the county."

            Clearly, by its own express terms, the first sentence of RCW 36.72.010,supra, is only applicable in those counties ". . . where two or more weekly, semiweekly or daily newspapers are published, . . ."  Thus, that sentence of RCW 36.72.010 is not applicable to San Juan county at the present time.  Nor, by the same token, is RCW 36.72.020,supra, applicable to San Juan county because of the fact that, while there are not two or more weekly, semiweekly or daily newspapers published therein there are, nevertheless, a total of three newspapers of one kind or another which are currently published in that county.  This leaves us, then, only with the second sentence of RCW 36.72.010 which, repeated for ease of reference, reads as follows:

            ". . .  The board of county commissioners shall consider the question of circulation in awarding the county printing contract, with a view to giving such printing the widest publicity; and no newspaper shall be eligible  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] as a competitor nor shall a contract be let to any newspaper, unless it has been established, published, and circulated in the county for at least six months, and has a general and bona fide circulation throughout the county in which it is published."

            The question posed is whether, in designating an official county newspaper under this portion of the statute, the commissioners may select a paper which has been ". . . established, published and circulated in the county for at least six months . . ." but which is published on less than a weekly, semiweekly or daily basis.  As you have pointed out in your letter, it is most certainly true that except for the inference raised by the first sentence of RCW 36.72.010, supra, that all official county newspapers are to be published at least weekly, there is nothing in that statute which indicates that this may not be done.  And once it is stated that the first section of the statute is inapplicable to San Juan county (a proposition with which, as above indicated, we agree) it is also true that as far as anything in RCW 36.72.010 is concerned, any barrier to the designation of a newspaper published on less than a weekly basis as the official county newspaper is removed.  Nevertheless, in view of at least two other statutes located further on in chapter 36.72 RCW or elsewhere in Title 36 RCW, we must conclude that such a designation would be legally improper.  This would be so, in our opinion, because of the simple fact that a newspaper which does not publish at least once a week would not be able to perform at least some of the required functions of an official county paper.

            First to be noted is another section of the same chapter, RCW 36.72.050, which provides in pertinent part that:

            "The county auditor, at least five weeks, but not more than eight weeks, before the meeting of the county legislative authority in April of each year, shall advertise for proposals for the public printing, for the term of one year, beginning on the first day of July following, which advertisement shall be insertedfor four consecutive weeks in the official newspaper of the county, or if there is no official newspaper, then in some other newspaper published in the county, or in a county adjacent to such county, and having a general circulation therein."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Secondly, chapter 36.40 RCW, relating to the adoption of the county budget, similarly provides that the notice of hearing on the final budget ". . . shall be published once each week for two consecutive weeks . . . in the official newspaper of the county . . ."  RCW 36.40.060.

            Therefore, in order to make compliance with these two statutes possible it is essential that if there is a newspaper in the county which is published on at least a weekly basis, such paper be designated as the official county paper.  Only if there is no such newspaper published in the county may the county then select some other paper.

            Of course, consistent with the foregoing there is no legal reason why the Island County Record could not, by becoming a weekly paper, compete through the bidding process of RCW 36.72.010 with the Friday Harbor Journal for the designation next time (i.e., presumably next April) that the matter comes up for action by the commissioners.  It would not be necessary, in order for the Record to qualify, that it have already been a weekly for at least six months prior to being so designated; rather, in line with our opinion as above indicated, it is only necessary that it be at least a weekly paper during whatever period it is serving in that capacity.

            Question (2):

            The foregoing negative answer to question (1) renders our consideration of your second question unnecessary.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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