Lenexa exempting itself from state law requirement for official city newspapers

Cindy Harmison, Lenexa city attorney

The city of Lenexa no longer has The Olathe News as an official city newspaper for publishing legal notices. City leaders have agreed to exempt Lenexa from K.S.A 64-101, the state law regarding official city newspapers. And The Johnson County Legal Record is now the only official publication for Lenexa’s public notices.

In 1997, the city had passed a charter ordinance exempting itself from the state law so it could designate multiple newspapers by resolution. At that time, The Johnson County Legal Record and The Olathe Daily News (renamed The Olathe News in 2009) became Lenexa’s official newspapers.

Since then, The Kansas City Star has acquired The Olathe News, and now the publication no longer meets state law requirements because the Star is published out of state. To be considered an official city newspaper of Lenexa, a publication must be circulated on a regular basis and must be published in Johnson County, or at least in the state of Kansas.

City Attorney Cindy Harmison said that, as a result, Lenexa is having difficulty finding newspapers that meet the statutory qualifications. (Digital publications, such as the Shawnee Mission Post, don’t qualify under state law because they are not printed.)
Additionally, because The Johnson County Legal Record only publishes on Tuesdays, and city council meetings take place on Tuesdays, the timing doesn’t seem to fit with providing adequate and timely notice for residents, Harmison said.

To make the official change, the city is required to pass a charter ordinance exempting itself from the state law. Harmison said this process will take several months. Exemption from state law gives the city the flexibility to establish an official city newspaper by regular ordinance, if city leaders decide to do so, she added.

The Lenexa governing body on Nov. 19 unanimously approved adopting a resolution that designates The Johnson County Legal Record as the city’s only official city newspaper. The governing body also unanimously approved passage of the charter ordinance exempting Lenexa from KSA 64-101 in its entirety and repealing a related charter ordinance on the issue.

Passage of a charter ordinance requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the governing body, followed by publication for two consecutive weeks and a period of 60 days to allow for a petition and referendum.

If no one files a valid petition in that time period, the charter ordinance becomes effective on the 61st day after the last publication, or sometime in early February.

In the meantime, city staff is working to find better ways to communicate legal and public notices on the city’s website. The city’s legislative platform is also advocating for changes at the state level that would allow the city website to become an official publication.

Rep. Tom Cox said legislators have discussed — but not debated — “moving away from this antiquated model” of publishing public notices.

“There’s been bills introduced over the last few years that would essentially modernize it, saying anything that’s required for publication could be done digitally as well as print, so either one would count,” Cox said, adding that legislators tend to oppose these types of bills because rural communities push against it. “They have local papers, and the local papers say ‘this could kill us; this could put us out of business. This is where we get a lot of our revenue.’”

Cox said the issue is likely to come up again in the upcoming legislative session.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that The Johnson County Legal Record remains as an official city newspaper for the city of Lenexa.