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School bus buyer taken for a ride; make it right

By (EDITORIAL)

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000


No law was broken when a Citrus County school district employee ran up the bid for a school bus at a surplus property auction in November. And it appears there was no corrupt intent by the worker or the amateur auctioneer to defraud the process.

Nevertheless, the bid was rigged, and the person who wound up buying the bus almost certainly paid more than he would have if the auctioneer and his shill had not conspired to inflate the asking price.

That outcome should be enough to convince Superintendent Pete Kelly to offer a partial refund to Harvey Duprey, the man who bought one of the buses for $1,600 without knowing that the person bidding against him had been instructed to inflate the price.

An investigation by school district administrators concluded that confusion over the bidding was a misunderstanding between Ron Partridge, the school warehouse worker who admittedly bid on a bus he had no intention of buying, and Jack Brady, an assistant principal who volunteered as auctioneer at the surplus sale. Partridge says Brady told him before the auction to bid on the bus. Brady confirms he asked Partridge to bid, and that his instruction was related to instructions he received from Bill Humbaugh, the district's executive director for support services. Humbaugh wanted to ensure the bus sold for no less than $1,000.

Duprey says Partridge was the only person bidding against him and that if the school employee had not been involved, he could have saved the $600 difference between his original bid and the selling price.

Humbaugh said last week that he cannot verify that Duprey and Partridge were the only bidders, and that, coupled with the auction's rules that all sales are final, is why Duprey's request for reimbursement has been denied.

Those sound more like excuses than reasons, especially the one about all sales being final. If that is the case, then why wasn't Partridge's purchase of another bus final? After Partridge told district officials who were supervising the auction that he did not want the bus and was bidding only because he was told to do so, his debt was forgiven. That occurrence is actually what started the rumors that eventually prompted district personnel officers to investigate the incident.

Whether the suggestion for Partridge to submit a bogus bid came directly from Brady or indirectly through Humbaugh doesn't matter; it was wrong and everyone involved should have known better. So overtly deceitful is the practice of using a shill that if Brady was a state-licensed auctioneer, a first offense could have cost him $1,000 and suspension of his license.

Superintendent Kelly should not dismiss this regretful episode as a misunderstanding. It was unprofessional and, at least from Duprey's point of view, dishonest. In the interest of fairness, Kelly should refund the $600 difference Duprey paid unnecessarily, or give him the opportunity to void the sale altogether.

When faced with inconclusive evidence, but knowing that members of his staff bear even a modicum of blame, Kelly should set the higher standard by giving Duprey the benefit of the doubt.

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