LONDONDERRY — A newspaper publisher accused officials of unfair treatment at Monday’s Town Council meeting after losing a contract to publish legal notices.
Debra Paul, publisher of the weekly Londonderry Times, Nutfield News and the Tri-Town Times, said it was wrong for the town to switch its legal notice advertising to the Derry News. Legal notices are posted publicly and in print to inform residents of meetings, hearings and other town business.
“I was shocked. I did not get a call or the courtesy of an email that this decision had been made,” said Paul, reading a statement during the public forum of the council meeting.
Paul said she has published the paid-advertising legal notices in the Londonderry Times for about 15 years. Before that, they were published in the Derry News.
Paul said she was told the decision was made because the Derry News offered a cheaper rate.
In a memo, Town Manager Kevin Smith listed other reasons including problems that Paul’s company has had with paying taxes to the IRS, a memo from the secretary of state citing election law violations, the publication of inaccurate information, as well as his claim that she’d violated the Society for Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics.
In criticizing the town’s decision, Paul questioned the delivery and household reach of the Derry News compared to her newspaper.
She said she earned about $7,000 last year from printing the town’s legal notices, and any savings the town realizes cannot match the value of her newspaper.
She also criticized Smith for hanging up on her when she called to get information about his decision, an allegation Smith denied.
Seven residents spoke in support of Paul. Afterward, Town Council Chairman John Farrell deferred to Smith.
“The town manager made a decision to move in another direction. He has that authority,” Farrell said.
Farrell added that elements of an editorial about the change recently published by Paul were “not as accurate as they could be.” He also challenged her description of the phone call with Smith, saying town manager ended it because the line went silent.
Farrell noted disparaging comments about town officials in social media discussions about the change. He asked people to be more sensitive.
“Let’s build a community together,” he said. “We have extremely good staff here, great leadership from our town manager.”
Paul continued to lash out after the public comment portion of the meeting had ended, at one point shouting at Farrell and the council: “Shame on all of you.”
When Farrell called her out of order, she continued to shout about “freedom of speech” before walking out of the meeting.