Sign and Sell
Dan Miller, the controller for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, should heed a judge’s ruling and sign an auction contract allowing the deeply indebted city to auction off the Western artifacts it owns.
In 2011, the city council voted to sell what remained of the $8.3 million worth of objects that former Mayor Stephen Reed collected for a proposed Wild West museum that was never built. In January 2012, the city announced three finalists in the search for an auction house to liquidate the collection: Freeman’s, The Potomack Company, and Guernsey’s. After a review of proposals, Guernsey’s won the contract. In March, the mayor’s office stated that eight days of sales throughout Harrisburg would take place in mid-July. (There are about 8000 objects and archival material to be sold.)
Miller has refused to sign the sales contract, claiming that that city code prohibits him from authorizing any expenditure that hasn’t been approved by the city council. (The city council did vote to sell but did not review or approve the auction contract.) The dispute ended up in court, and in November a judge ordered Miller to sign the contract. He has appealed the decision, putting the sale on hold.
Miller, who plans to run for mayor, doesn’t like the fees Guernsey’s is charging. In a December 21, 2012, editorial in the Patriot News, Miller wrote, “Guernsey’s Auction House, the mayor’s choice, had one of the highest fees,” citing an 18% seller’s commission and a 22% buyer’s premium. Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s, defended his firm’s fees. “Auctions of valuable works of art or historic antiques require a far higher level of orchestration and marketing designed to attract buyers globally. These auctions are far
costlier to produce, requiring large staffs and sophisticated national and international marketing,” he wrote in the Patriot News.
After approval by the city council, Guernsey’s emerged as the winner in the public bid process. A court has reaffirmed the decision. Miller should sign the contract and let the sale commence.