John Kysylyczyn can rattle off Minnesota newspaper laws like some people quote favorite movie lines. The statutes came in handy when in 2011 he launched the Anoka County Record, a free weekly paper that stirred debate as it received contracts to publish public notices for the county and three cities.
Now Kysylyczyn (pronounced Kiss-a-LISH-en) has decided to end the Record after losing Anoka County's business to the cheaper prices of a local newspaper chain. He said the decision largely stemmed from his need to focus more on political consultant work. The final issue came out Jan. 30.
"We turned a profit every single year," said Kysylyczyn, 46. "We still would have turned a profit next year even without the county's business."
In Anoka County, some city and county officials questioned contracting with the Record, typically a six-page, loose-leaf publication. Some county commissioners said it was more akin to a newsletter or a blog with advertising.
"I've never seen it as a newspaper. Period," said County Commissioner Jim Kordiak.
To that, Kysylyczyn had a ready answer: "A real newspaper is a matter of law. It's not an opinion in this state."
That's where Minnesota Statute 331A comes in, which says that a legal newspaper must meet several criteria, including circulation figures, publishing a certain amount of local news and printing in English.
At the county level, Kysylyczyn said the sealed competitive bidding process makes the choice of lowest bidder clear. But despite the Record's prices, most local governments turned down offers to print their notices there.
Asked why, he replied: "It was 100 percent political."
Ripe for business
Public notices — also called legals — can range from public hearings to project bids, and under state law they must appear in print.
The Star Tribune publishes public notices for several jurisdictions including Ham Lake and Oak Grove, two Anoka County cities that had been contracting with the Record.
Kysylyczyn, a former mayor of Roseville, said he figured several years ago that he could publish them for a fraction of the going rates and saw an area ripe for business in Anoka County, where he found a lack of competition and the relatively high rates being paid to print public notices there.
Each issue of the Record generally included two to three front-page articles from regular contributors and sometimes a column by Kysylyczyn, along with ads and public notices. Kysylyczyn said the paper was "issue-oriented," giving long looks to topics such as a Nowthen City Council race and open government issues at the county level.
Kysylyczyn said the Record had the impact he wanted by fueling price competition, dropping bids received by the county from about $10 per column inch in past years to just over $2 in some cases this year.
But some public officials said factors other than price are a priority for them, including circulation figures.
Fridley Mayor Scott Lund said his city picked the Fridley Sun Focus over the Record because it reached a larger audience. About 2,000 copies of the Sun Focus are delivered in Fridley, according to city documents. The Record's most recently reported circulation numbers were just under 940, digital editions included.
"If we're going to spend money to get the word out about public notices," Lund said, "we feel we should do the best job we can."
In 2015, the Record won Anoka County's business, spurring a number of fiery letters to the editor in the local ECM Publishers newspapers where public notices had appeared.
In one letter, a local DFL Party leader described the Record as a "Tea-Party influenced publication" and a "Republican-controlled 'rag.' " Kysylyczyn said some didn't like the fact that one of his advertisers belonged to another party.
Dick Mussell, an Anoka insurance broker and former City Council member, subscribed to the Record and said he'll miss its "investigative edge ... Sometimes things need to be shaken up a little bit."