Courier closes its doors with hopes to reopen

NEW CUMBERLAND – A Hancock County family is trying to regain control of the Hancock County Courier, one of the county’s oldest institutions, in a bid to reopen it under new ownership.

The Courier, a weekly newspaper published in Hancock County since 1869, has not put out a print edition since Feb. 20 – a day after the paper’s 145th anniversary.

An electronic edition for Feb. 27 appeared on the Courier’s Facebook page, but the newspaper has been silent since then – despite assurances that the paper would reopen in two weeks.

A “notice of default” posted Thursday on the Courier’s Jefferson Street office door claims that publisher Charles Hackett has not made payments to the Tate family for four and a half months and has defaulted on a lease agreement he signed in February 2013.

The notice is posted in the name of Tina M. Tate, former owner of the weekly newspaper, and signed by her attorney, Lawrence Manypenny. “(Tate) hereby immediately does take possession of all collateral, including, but not limited to, equipment, inventory and accounts receivable,” the notice says.

Tate referred questions to her son, Hugh Tate Jr., who said the family is concerned about the newspaper’s legacy and wants to see it continue publishing under new ownership.

“We’re not able to run it ourselves. We all have full-time jobs,” said Tate, a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy. “Once we get it back, we’d like to try to sell it again. We’re looking into all possibilities right now.”

Hackett, former owner of C. Hackett Chrysler Dodge Jeep, became publisher of the Courier a year ago after signing a lease-to-own agreement with Tate. The Newell dealership filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 2013.

The Courier is not implicated in the bankruptcy proceedings, so, under the terms of the contract, it reverts back to the ownership of the Tate family, Tate said.

“We thought Chuck was doing well,” Tate said. “We were totally wrong. He went bankrupt with one business and is about to ruin another.”

The Tates have been involved with the Courier since Hugh Tate Sr. began working there as an ad salesman and printer in 1976. In 1982, Tate became co-owner of the Hancock County Courier Printing Co. and co-publisher and co-editor of the Courier.

In 2010, Hugh and Tina Tate bought the company, and Hugh Tate became the sole editor and publisher of the newspaper. He died in February 2012.

Hackett referred questions to Mark May, whose wife, Sue, is the most recent editor. May said Hackett planned to sign the Courier over to the employees, who would continue operating the newspaper – possibly under a different name and from a different location.

“We found out it was going to close, so we thought this would be the best way to keep it alive,” May said. “We’re confident we’ll come back bigger and better.”

May said the employees have filed paperwork with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office to assume ownership from Hackett.

“He wants the Courier to stay, to thrive, but he just wasn’t in a position to help it out financially in any way, shape or form,” May said.

Although New Cumberland City Council recently approved a rental agreement for the Courier to move its offices to the city building, May said that relocation is uncertain.

Tate, however, said there’s no truth to May’s statements about the employees taking control. “It’s absolutely impossible,” he said.