The city's policy for acquiring discarded city property has changed, but no city employees were disciplined for selling recently discarded police equipment on eBay because it had no value, City Attorney Craig Ritchie said last week.
Now a city employee must buy any surplus or junk city property directly from the city's contract property disposal company (PropertyRoom.com) or the dealer or wrecking company if it is a surplus or seized vehicle.
Ritchie said the city does have a policy regarding how employees can obtain city property that has been declared as surplus but it only applied when the property still had value.
"The elements of theft, one of which is intent, aren't there. There's no discipline because there's no wrongdoing," he said.
The policy change followed an internal investigation regarding disposal of property from the city's old off-site evidence
storage in September 2008.
The property included an old radio, two siren boxes, two inoperable light bars and a 1992 Acura with flat tires, a partially inoperable transmission and electrical wiring that had been chewed through by rats.
Ritchie said a police volunteer offered to take a couple of discarded items rather than have them taken to the landfill, then refurbished them and sold them on eBay.
The Sequim Police Department, like many others, no longer conducts surplus sales events but contracts with private vendors who market the property online and give the money to the city.
Vehicles usually are assigned to or sold to wrecking companies or dealers for either scrapping or resale to cover the cost of towing and disposal.
"Those light bars, even if we had spent the money to restore them to operating condition, would not have been used because of their outdated style and quality," he said.
The time and materials used by this employee, the costs of selling on eBay and expense of shipping charges were clearly not something the city would have done to refurbish and sell those items, Ritchie said.
Usually it is better to dispose of old equipment, especially police equipment, than to recycle, reuse or resell it, he said.
Ritchie said to avoid the appearance of profiting from the city's trash, the employee since has donated the $166 he received for the two items.
That's more than the $115 net price the employee received because of shipping costs, he said.
The 1992 Acura that was classified as a junk or hulk vehicle remains in police custody and eventually will be turned over to a wrecking company for its scrap value, which is now "abysmally low," Ritchie said.
A police employee offered to tow the vehicle and use it for parts, saving the city a towing bill of up to $250.
However, transfer of such a vehicle required a paper trail declaring the vehicle a 'junk vehicle' under state law, which was accomplished.
Sequim Police Chief Robert Spinks said, "The city attorney concluded, as have I, that neither state law nor existing city policy was violated by this act of 'dumpster diving.' However, the public perception cannot be overlooked.
"I wish employees had been more sensitive to appearances in the handling of this junk and trash," he said.
Reach Brian Gawley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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