Despite a successful sale of former administrator Joe Johnson’s repossessed items, a Mount Sterling Village Council member said she was concerned about the sale from both an ethical and legal standpoint.
Last week, Council member Diane Spradlin said she appreciated auctioneer Tom Corbin’s skills in getting the village the best value from a recent sale of Johnson’s vehicles, but was concerned about not giving enough of a chance for residents to buy the items, as well as the decision to not sell everything repossessed.
“I was under the distinct impression at the June 14 meeting of the finance committee, that we were all in agreement that we would have a public auction of every item on the list and that any monies received would go directly into the general fund,” she said. “Now I’ve noticed we’ve had individual motions to do otherwise so I’m a little bit confused about how that very clear recommendation that was unanimously agreed upon … wasn’t followed.”
She said she was more in favor of public auction for the resident’s sake.
“I was just trying to put myself in the shoes of a resident that in fact may have wanted to bid on something. On the other hand wouldn’t have the opportunity because we’ve chosen other ways to sell or dispose of them or keep them. That was the only point I was trying to make.”
Mayor Lowell Anderson explained what he felt council’s logic was.
“We’ve decided in that last meeting on what we were going to do with things, Diane,” said Anderson. “I think the records speak for themselves on what council decided to do. Some things, yes, we’re going to keep. Most of the things are going to sell. It doesn’t pay out to sell, say, a lawnmower or whatever, and pay more in the future than what we could have gotten out from what we had. Everything is sold best we can for the best dollar.”
Corbin said that even though he wasn’t getting paid he was treating these sales like he would any business decision: logically.
“I look at this purely as business and try to take emotion out of this,” he said. “And I completely understand that you were hurt by a man you completely trusted and you liked as friend and neighbor, and he hurt you. And I take this as you trying to gain what you lost from him misrepresenting himself and being the way he is. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”
He felt that retaining tools, which may be needed in the future, would net more utility than any emotional benefit from selling them off.
“You as a council person [Mrs. Spradlin] would have had to have gone back to the village and said ‘you know that impact wrench you just bought for $5 [from a public sale of Johnson’s goods]? I’m sorry I’m going to have to ask you for $250 to replace it,’” he said. “Would you have felt good doing that?”
“Over the holiday when the power went out, that was a real good example,” he added. “You did not have a portable generator that you could have taken some place to use it, if needed. Now you do, [after taking it from Johnson]. Unfortunately it has to be brought up to date with spark plugs that hasn’t been done yet but it will be,” he said.
President Pro-Tem of Council, Mary Lou Stiverson-Ratliff said Corbin’s logic was sound and she agreed with it.
“After your presentation at the last meeting I was hell-bent on sticking with selling everything right down to that stupid little plastic picture frame,” she said. “When you hear a presentation like that, and you have to admit to yourself, ‘I really don’t know anything about this,’ but [now] we’ve heard from someone which I consider teaching us at the feet of the master. Your presentation completely revealed to me what I was too blind to see before and I really appreciate that.”
“I was kinda like Mary Lou,” said Council member Dave Timmons. “Plus now we’re gonna have stuff we’re gonna use and still have money makes me feel good not only as a council member but as person in the village because we’ve been through, might as well say it, holy hell. Basically now it seems like the way to go.”
Spradlin was also concerned about the process which the items were approved to be sold, mentioning a law called ORC 721.15 which discusses how villages disposed of personal property.
“It states in 21.15 that if the estimated value of such personal property exceeds $1,000, which all of our vehicles did I believe, it shall be sold only when authorized by an ordinance by the authority of the municipal corporation and approved by the board officer or manager of such personal property,” she said. “When I look at the minutes from last meeting, I don’t see any of these motions that had to do with these items that an ordinance was attendant in any of them, especially the vehicles. Because the ORC clearly states we do have to have an ordinance.”
The village’s law director, Mark Pitstick explained his thoughts on the matter.
“I don’t know if we had one prior but what I’m going to say to you is this: whenever you have excess inventory or excess assets, such as vehicles or pickup truck or snow blower, whatever it may be that has a value greater than $1,000 you have to bring a resolution to council declaring it surplus and then council can turn right around and sell the item at whatever price it deem appropriate,” he said. “These particular vehicles were taken out of theft and given to the village as a result of theft offense. They’re not something that the village uses in day to day operations. What they did, was they wanted to get as much as out these vehicles as they could and council could not have ever declared … the Dodge Charger as salvage and put up a particular resolution for a single car these were given to the village as restitution.”
Corbin said there’s likely a judicial decree that allowed the village to sell the items, but differed any full legal opinions to a lawyer.
In late June, Corbin presented council with a plan of attack on how to sell Johnson’s former items.
Spradlin was not at the meeting where the auctioneer explained his selling strategy to council.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.