By Michael Sadowski
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania | Sun Jul 21, 2013 9:29pm EDT
(Reuters) - Thousands of artifacts from the Wild West era were sold off during a week-long public auction by authorities in Pennsylvania's financially distressed state capital, ending on Sunday with nearly $4 million in sales.
A dentist chair used by famed gambler, gunfighter and dentist John Henry "Doc" Holliday and a foot locker built for sharpshooter Annie Oakley were among the items sold by Harrisburg's government at the auction, which was handled by Guernsey's of New York City.
The items were amassed by former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed using millions of dollars of public funds to stock a proposed Wild West museum that never opened to the public.
"There were skeptics who didn't believe they'd get that much," Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's, said of the more than $3.9 million raised through the auction.
"It's not going to save the city, but it's a good amount and hopefully it's enough to settle some debt," Ettinger said.
City officials have not announced any specific plans for the money.
Harrisburg is burdened with more than $300 million in debt, much of which stems from a failed incinerator project.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Paul Simao)
Ah, beautiful,historic Harrisburg, PA. Only 100 miles west of Philadelphia, and forty miles north of Gettysburg, it is right in midst of of some of the most important places during both the founding of our country and the Civil War, so it only makes sense that it be home to a, uh, uh... a Wild West museum? That makes about as much sense as having a logging and lumberjack museum in Nebraska, or a maritime museum in Nevada, but somehow it doesn’t surprise me knowing that the idea was the brainchild of a politician.
At first glance, it would be easy to accuse this as being the dumbest idea a mayor ever had, and a classic example of why the city is in debt. As dumb as it is, a wild west museum in Harrisburg probably wasn’t even on the top one hundred list of dumb ideas people running the city ever made, and only accounts for the tiniest fraction of the city’s debt.
First of all, the museum itself, was never built. (At least one time a city avoided the opportunity to spend a large sum of money.) Secondly, many of the items were probably either donated or sold for a fair price to the city. Many of the items probably appreciated in value over the years, and since the city was able to sell them, there is a good chance that the city came out OK on this one particular folly.
Even though Harrisburg is not the ideal place for a wild west museum, at least the artifacts purchased were real items with tangible value. In the long run all the city did was exchange assets. Money for cowboy stuff, and then cowboy stuff for money. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t get burned too bad.
Harrisburg is somewhat unique among debt-ridden cities because most of their money problems originated from their trash incinerator plant. Most cities' debt problems are originating from city employee pay and benefit packages, particularly, pension benefits.
Most of these cities are caught between a rock and a hard place because the city employees and their unions are unwilling to make any concessions. For many cities bankruptcy is beginning to look like the only option. Many people feel that this is unfair to city employees because they bargained in good faith and deserve all they expected to have coming to them. After all, the workers were not responsible for the city’s finances.
Or were they?
In decades past, with the never ending cycle (until now) of work-strike-raise, work-strike-raise, along with yearly regular raises, the pay and benefits of city workers often far exceeded those in the private sector. Their unions also consistently supported the most fiscally irresponsible politicians. If the workers didn’t know that this couldn’t last forever, they should have. They also should have had enough of a sense of loyalty and gratitude to their city and neighbors that they would not have allowed things to get this far out of line. They strangled the golden goose to the point where they have screwed themselves. Now, their cities are broke, and no one’s foolish enough to lend them any more money.
It might tempting to look down on the employees of debt-ridden cities and say that they got what they deserved, but if we were to be honest, we would probably find that we really no better than them. The United States is just a few paces behind many cities in the race to financial armageddon, and it could not have happened without the majority of it’s citizens being willing accomplices by voting for politicians that love to spend our money.
You might say it’s not your fault, you voted for the other guys, but obviously that’s not enough, otherwise, your guys would have won. It’s not enough to just vote smart anymore. Your duty is to get other people to vote smart too. Ignoring this duty is just plain stupid.