HOLLYWOOD, Md. — The following letter to the editor comes from Bonnie Kelnberger of Lexington Park, Maryland:
Over a year ago, at the March 30, 2021 Commissioners Meeting, Todd Morgan proposed the county government begin using The St. Mary’s County Times to advertise public notices. State law requires a newspaper to be published and distributed, by sale, in order to have an established customer list to prove it can reach readership relevant to the advertised government notices. The County Times did not meet this requirement because it was a free newspaper.
By the October 5, 2021 meeting between the Commissioners and the St. Mary’s County Delegation, the Commissioners had prepared and submitted legislation to amend the law. The amendment provided an exception, for St. Mary’s County only, to enable the government to advertise in a newspaper distributed free of charge. This became House Bill 523 in the 2022 Maryland General Assembly.
HB523 was heard in the Health and Government Operations Committee Meeting on March 1, 2022. Delegate Matt Morgan, using a copy of the St. Mary’s County Times featuring Commissioner Todd Morgan on the cover, explained the rationale for the change.
Delegate Morgan claims the county government had an issue with people seeing county notices in SOMD News, formerly The Enterprise. His evidence was that SOMD News changed delivery methods and is owned by an out of town conglomerate. Delegate Morgan says “we,” (though he doesn’t define who “we” is) consider The County Times to be the local paper.
This bill, HB 523, did not make it out of committee. The County Times was a free newspaper and was unable to provide a subscriber list to back up claims of nearly 10,000 readers. Committee members suggested that claim could be wildly inaccurate given the “Grab & Go” method of delivery–one individual could take multiple, or all, or the papers. It’s been known to happen in St. Mary’s County.
Since proposing this idea 16 months ago, Commissioner Todd Morgan has been prominently featured in The County Times on many occasions. Morgan has been on the cover, featured in glowing interviews, and even had a sticker advertising his run for delegate on last week’s cover.
Former one-term Commissioner President Tommy McKay, who vacated the position in 2006 to run for State Senate, is now running for Commissioner President again. He is the owner of The County Times. Mr. McKay stood to financially benefit from the change in law proposed by Todd Morgan, as the county would pay the newspaper to advertise its notices. Incidentally, McKay has nearly $30,000 in outstanding campaign loans from his last campaign in 2006.
Very recently, The County Times began a new initiative–they are now requesting payment from those who pick up the paper. Supporting local papers is important, but this is also a way to build a customer list. Once the publication has a customer list there will be no need to change the law to allow the county government to reserve paid advertising in this paper.
Should Tommy McKay be re-elected, he would have direct influence over pushing the county government to advertise in The County Times, a paper he owns. Did McKay feature Todd Morgan as an exchange of favors for Morgan attempting to change the newspaper law?
Certainly, Morgan benefits from the increased coverage since he is now running for delegate. Did McKay start charging for The County Times to build a customer list and make it easier to make money from the county government? Only he can answer that.
When you go to the ballot box this year, for the primary and the general election, consider who you are voting for. It’s time for new leadership that is honest and trustworthy. We’ve had enough of the good ole boys club.
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