May 14, 2006

Ooops Devine gets caught $liming taxpayers again!!!

As reported in Worrall Community Newspapers
Linden overcharged for advertisement

By Dan Burns, Staff Writer

LINDEN, NJ - The city of Linden was overcharged more than $1,600 to run a legal advertisement in a local newspaper in March, calculations by The Progress show.

Devine Media Enterprises Inc., which publishes three Rahway-based newspapers, charged Linden $4,503.60 to run notice of a tax sale in four separate issues of the News Record in March. The company should have charged Linden $2,866.50 to publish the ad four times, according to state law.

Government bodies are required by law to advertise notices of public meetings — and items such as budgets and ordinances — in a newspaper so the public is informed about the actions its public officials are taking. The rates for public notice advertising are determined by New Jersey state law and are calculated based on a newspaper’s paid circulation.

Devine Media submitted statements to the New Jersey Press Association that the paid circulation of the News Record for 2005 was 13,388. Figures for 2006 are not available because Devine Media is no longer a member of the NJPA.

Adding the number of lines in the Linden ad and dividing that number by the amount charged shows that Devine charged an equivalent of 55 cents per line.

Based on the News Record’s 2005 paid circulation numbers, Devine Media should have charged Linden only 35 cents per line to run the ad. Even if the News Record’s paid circulation tripled to 40,000, in the last year it would legally only be able to charge one cent more per line, according to the law.

News Record Publisher James Devine declined comment on how his company calculated the amount it billed Linden for the ad. He also declined an opportunity to go over the calculations of The Progress with a reporter.

Devine did say he plans to sue multiple parties at Worrall Newspapers for the content of its article “District overpays for advertisement,” which appeared in the April 20 edition of The Progress.

The story claimed the Rahway Board of Education paid $297.38 more than it should have to legally advertise its proposed school budget in the March 23 edition of Devine’s News Record.

Devine would not comment on whether the information that appeared in The Progress was correct. He would only state that he is suing Worrall Community Newspapers, its Publishers Raymond and David Worrall individually, and Managing Editor Kitty Wilder, who wrote the story.

“I was libeled twice by an economic competitor for the malicious purpose of depriving me of an economic advantage, which is actionable in this state,” Devine said.

The Progress story stated the Rahway Board of Education paid $730.02 to advertise its school budget in the March 23 edition of the News Record, when it should have, by law, paid $432.64.

Rahway Board of Education Attorney Mark Tabakin confirmed at the board’s April 24 meeting that Devine Media had “exceeded the rate” it was supposed to charge for the ad. The board then voted to stop use of the News Record for legal advertising while rates are investigated.

The Rahway City Council stopped publishing public notices in the News Record in 2004, when the council determined Devine Media had overcharged the municipality.

Most legal advertisements — with exceptions such as sheriff sales and zoning-related hearings — are paid with taxpayer dollars. A legal advertisement is a public notice advertisement.

State law establishes specific criteria that must be used by paid circulation newspapers in determining the space they charge to publish a public notice. That criteria describes the size of type that must be used, as well as the length of a line.

The font Devine Media used in the ad in question is larger than the criteria set forth by the law. That is legal as long as the company charges based on the legal definition of a line, not on the total area of the ad, according to New Jersey Press Association Attorney Tom Cafferty.

Publishers can print the lines of their legal ads in as large of a font as they wish, but they can not charge more for it, according to Cafferty. Costs must be determined prior to the inflation of the lines, Cafferty said.

In the 1971 case of S. Gamrin et al vs. Palisades Newspapers, Superior Court Judges Goldmann, Collester and Mintz ruled the “newspaper was required to charge city for official advertisements on basis of agate line count rather than on basis of agate rule measurement of space occupied.” Palisades newspapers had allegedly been using a larger font than state law set forth and was charging the Bergen County city of Englewood for the space its inflated ads occupied.

Devine declined comment on whether he is familiar with the law.

“I’m sure my attorney would advise me not to say anything at all,” Devine said.

Lynn Maguire of the Linden City Clerk’s Office said Linden usually sends legal ads to its official newspapers on a Thursday or a Friday after a council meeting and is usually billed at a later date. They find out what the charge is at a later date.

Maguire said she isn’t aware of any system Linden uses to ensure a newspaper has not overcharged the city.

Linden Council President Robert Bunk said this is the first he has heard of Devine’s company potentially overcharging the city.

“It’s never come up before in council. As far as I know, we’ve never had a problem with him,” Bunk said.

Devine Media also does public relations work for Linden. The city pays the company an annual salary of $35,000 to inform local newspapers, including his own, of positive happenings within the city.