County disposal of furniture questioned
June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:37 PM
"Metal file cabinets and desks that once filled offices at the Island County Courthouse now rest at Freeland's Island Recycling where it will be sold to the public or scrapped, depending on condition.Matt Johnson / staff photoThe Island County Courthouse has partially moved to Island Recycling in Freeland. To prepare the building for the upcoming remodeling project, all of the furniture from the offices was dragged into the hallway, including a dozen or so metal filing cabinets, uncomfortable chairs and many metal desks with drawers that won't open.It was all shipped to Island Recycling, but not before a protest by a Coupeville antique dealer who said there are some valuable antiques, including pews from the courtrooms and stackable, glass-front lawyers' bookcases.In fact, George Lloyd, owner of Elkhorn Trading antique store and a professional personal property appraiser, took a look at the property before it was sent to Freeland and valued it all at more than $15,000.But to get rid of the excess furniture in a hurry, county property manager Lee McFarland said the county paid Island Recycling $4,000 to take it all away.This raised hackles in Coupeville.Lloyd claims county officials broke their own rules by not giving the public a chance to purchase some items. He charged the county is also ripping off the taxpayers by actually paying a company to take valuable items.It's really beyond me why the county didn't hold a public sale or auction, he said. The whole thing just smells of an inside deal.Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell, however, said the county's actions were perfectly legal. He disputes Lloyd's assessment of the furniture.There are some items that have value. ... but you have to look at the net value of everything, which is negative, he said.Under the county code, the county is supposed to sell any surplus tangible property by auction, privately operated consignment sale open to the public or by sealed bid, unless one of five exceptions are met.One of the exceptions is when the property is worth less than $2,500.Last month, the commissioners signed a resolution stating that the property was worth less than $2,500. But McDowell could not say who determined that the property was worth that amount. McFarland said the property was valued at zero to satisfy the requirements of paperwork. Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Jamieson said he was not involved in writing the resolution.But in addition, McFarland said the county officials turned to Island Recycling to take the property away because they needed to get the furniture out of the building quickly and didn't have time for an auction.McDowell explained that the time frame for clearing out the building was tight. The court-related departments moved out of the courthouse and into the new Law and Justice Center, leaving all their old furniture behind, in the last few weeks. The other departments were moving into the annex building up until last week, so the furniture couldn't have been moved out earlier.Everything has to be cleared out of the building by May 19, McDowell said, so the county's contractors can start demolishing the insides.An emergency existed, McFarland said. We didn't have the time or space for an auction.McDowell said the county tried to give away all the furniture to the Lions Club for its annual giant garage sale, but the Lions only wanted the pews. Taking the furniture was an all or nothing deal, he said.Island Recycling owner David Campbell said the whole deal has been pretty confusing. When he agreed to salvage the furniture, he said the county gave him a list an arm long. But he learned that many of the valuable items on the list weren't available. People in other county departments have been scavenging through the items, trading their old office furniture in for better furniture. By last Saturday, Campbell had brought more than 20 large filing cabinets, a half-dozen metal desks, and other miscellaneous pieces of furniture to Island Recycling. Most of the furniture was in good working condition. Some of the filing cabinets looked almost unused.County Facilities Director Paul Messner said at least two of the six lawyers' bookcases have been confiscated by county employees. But as the county's remodeling schedule continues to the annex building, Messner said all the old furniture will eventually be surplused.Campbell said he will try to sell everything that he can, but some items - like upholstered chairs - are going straight to the dump. The metal desks and filing cabinets will be sold as scrap metal and recycled. The rest of the items were loaded into a truck and taken to the Freeland center, where it will be sorted and priced. He said he probably won't start selling the furniture until May 22.It's going to mean a lot of work.I'm not sure I'm glad I got into this or not, Campbell said.Lloyd, however, says Campbell is getting an incredible sweetheart deal, whether he realizes it or not.This is not the way government is supposed to take care of public property, he said.Coupeville attorney Irving Rosenberg said he is also suspicious of the furniture surplusing deal. He said county officials were very resistant when he questioned them about it. He says he trusts Campbell's assessment of the furniture's value.McFarland sees it differently: If there was tens of thousands of dollars worth of items, we would have gotten the money for it. "