GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -It was a foregone conclusion who would win the 2013 bid to publish legal notices when Mesa County Public Trustee Mike Moran opened the sealed envelope Dec. 28.Although both the Fruita Times and the Palisade Tribune carried the lucrative foreclosure notices last year, neither paper bid for this year's contract.That's because Bob Sweeney, former publisher of the two paid weeklies, no longer owns the papers."The Daily Sentinel group purchased the papers from me," said Sweeney, who also owns Village Publishing in Greenwood Village. "We didn't bid because we don't own the papers anymore."Grand Junction Media Inc., owners of the Daily Sentinel and The Nickel, purchased the Times and Tribune last week for an undisclosed amount, the Sentinel reported in a Thursday news story.The Sentinel's bid of $560 per five weeks of consecutive publication is twice that paid last year to the Palisade and Fruita papers for publishing the legal notices, Moran said. It's also more than the Sentinel was charging before the Fruita and Palisade papers took over publishing the legal notices in 2011, he said."It seems like a high rate, but it's what we're forced to pay them (as they're the only bid)," Moran said.Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton shed some light on the purchase of the Times and Tribune in an email to the Free Press Thursday."We did not acquire these papers solely for the private legals. We had been in off-and-on negotiations with Bob Sweeney for these papers for a couple of years. The timing of the closing was, however, driven by the deadline on the invitation for bids from the public trustee."Former public trustee Paul Brown stopped publishing the legal notices in the Sentinel after a dispute regarding errors and the formatting of the notices. Brown wanted the Sentinel to scan electronically and publish the information as he sent it to them - a process that would have cost the newspaper more space, but would be more readable than the traditional, dense, single-column format, Moran said.Moran said his office paid the Sentinel $514,132 in 2010, before Brown started publishing the notices in the Fruita and Palisade newspapers. The Daily Sentinel continued to publish some notices in 2012 when a couple of lenders requested publication in that paper, Moran said. Unless specified, legal notices are published in the default publication.In comparison, the trustee's office paid The Fruita Times and Palisade Tribune publisher $297,000 in 2012.Both the Times and Tribune published the notices as Brown had requested, with more white space."Our office felt that more people actually read the notices in that format," Moran said. "It's easier to read."
This year's bidders were required to have a "quality control procedure" in place to ensure accuracy in the legal notices, Moran said."Brown had a legitimate complaint," regarding errors, and there's now a process where the legal notices will be proofread internally at the newspaper, Moran said. The Public Trustee office is not taxpayer-funded. Instead, it receives fees primarily from lenders for performing specific tasks. Plus, banks reimburse the office for its publishing expenses. In less populated areas where there are fewer foreclosures, the county treasurer also serves as public trustee. For example, in 2011, Jackson County had three foreclosures and Baca County had seven, compared to the more than 3,000 foreclosures in Denver and 1,217 in Mesa County during that same time period."One of the issues in the press last year was whether the public trustee office should be independent any longer," Moran said. "But according to state statute, if you're above a certain population you should have an independent office" to handle the greater number of foreclosures and other legal notices.