Business

Auctioneer loses out in bidding process

It was the battle of the auctioneers at the Oak Harbor City Council meeting Wednesday, but nobody was talking fast.

The man who has helped the city of Oak Harbor unload all its surplus stuff over the last seven years or so was not happy that the city recently got a new auctioneer.

Cathy Rosen, Public Works superintendent, explained that this year, to be fiscally prudent, she asked a staff member to call three local auction companies to get bids for the auction service.

Rosen said only Herk Hancock and Western Auction Company of Clinton responded. They offered similar proposals, she said, with a 10 percent buyer’s premium, but Western Auction’s commission was smaller.

Hancock’s proposal included 15 percent commission on the gross proceeds. Western Auction proposed a sliding-scale commission, with only a 2.5 percent commission for proceeds between $50,000 and $100,000 and no commission if sales exceed $100,000.

The city auctions off surplus items each year. It’s usually stuff like old computer equipment, office furniture, tools, vehicles and items seized by the police department. Rosen said the auction will probably be over $100,000 this year because the county and I-COM are going to participate.

Rosen recommended that the council approve the contract with Western Auction Company.

Hancock, however, came to the meeting to complain. He said the city staff member who called him didn’t ask for a proposal, but told him he already got the job and asked him to just send the same contract used in the past.

Hancock said he would have ”reevaluated” his contract and sent a different proposal if he had known it was a bidding war.

“I was treated unfairly,” he said. “I was not informed the city was going out for bids.”

It’s little wonder he didn’t want to lose the gig: Under Hancock’s former contract, he would have made $25,000 on a one-day auction bringing in $100,000 in proceeds.

Rosen countered that her staff member claims she made it clear to Hancock that the city wanted him to bid on the job. She apologized for what she called “a miscommunication.”

Councilmember Eric Gerber suggested that the city let the auction companies re-bid, but this idea upset Western Auction Company owner Larry Marty, who was also in the audience.

“That would be extremely unfair, now that he’s aware of my bid,” he said. “There’s no way that I could win.”

That comment earned Marty an unhappy glare from Hancock, who looked like an old-time cowboy with a handlebar mustache and tanned skin.

The council members agreed that the situation was unfortunate, but went with the less expensive auction proposal from Western Auction. The list of items to be auctioned off will go before the council in September.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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