April 26, 2008 in City

Names of raceway park bidders remain secret

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Should the public be given the names of businesses and individuals who competed against Spokane County to buy parcels at Spokane Raceway Park at a court-ordered auction this month?

Eighteen parties joined Spokane County commissioners in bidding on 13 racetrack parcels, but their names are being kept secret by court-appointed receiver Barry W. Davidson.

“I’m respecting their privacy,” Davidson said Friday, more than a week after The Spokesman-Review made a formal request for the information.

The newspaper made the request amid an ongoing controversy about the commissioners’ decision to spend $4.3 million in public funds for four parcels, including the racing complex. The receiver earlier said the auction would be “open and transparent.”

In a letter to the receiver, newspaper attorney Duane Swinton said because the auction was court-sanctioned, the bidders were dealing in the public arena with the court and should have no expectation of privacy.

Swinton wrote: “Given your representations that the auction would be transparent and given the concerns that have arisen among the general public relating to Spokane County bidding against private individuals, we are at a loss to understand why you have refused to disclose the name of one of the successful bidders and why the names of the 19 registered bidders have not been released to the public.” Davidson has declined to release the name of one of five successful bidders, even though that person’s identity ultimately will be filed on land ownership records and be a matter of public record.

Superior Court Judge Robert Austin, who approved the auction, ultimately may be asked whether names of the prospective and successful bidders should be made public.

The newspaper’s request for the bidders’ identities was based in part on court documents filed by Davidson, who was appointed receiver in July 2005. He got court permission in January to sell the 570 acres owned by Washington Motorsports Ltd. to satisfy claims of 600 limited partners.

Many of those limited partners are unhappy with the auction’s outcome, said Troy Moe, who helped organize a 2003 lawsuit that ultimately precipitated appointment of the receiver and the sale of Washington Motorsports assets.

“The unit holders who have contacted me have expressed an interest in knowing who the registered bidders were at the auction,” Moe said Friday.

“I can also tell you the general reaction was dissatisfaction about the amount of revenue generated by the auction,” he said. “There still is an opportunity or window, I believe, for higher bids to be presented to the receiver for the court’s consideration.”

In legal filings, the receiver asked the court to approve a public outcry auction – a “totally public and transparent process” – instead of a more-secretive sealed bid process.

The public auction approach was needed, Davidson argued in court documents, because of “allegations that others have made regarding an alleged ‘conspiracy’ of certain parties to ‘take over ownership of Spokane Raceway Park and Washington Motorsports through illegal and fraudulent means.’ ”

Davidson said Friday, “I’m respecting the privacy of all bidders, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment on whether the bidders included prior management or other insiders.” The names of four of five successful bidders were made public immediately after the April 10 auction, but the name of a woman who bought three parcels for $1.28 million remains a secret. Two of the parcels are commercially zoned frontage on Hayford Road, adjoining the Northern Quest casino owned by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.

At the auction, the court-appointed receiver refused to release the names of registered bidders, who had to show up with a minimum of $10,000 to qualify to bid on the parcels being sold by the court.

Spokane County was the only identified bidder, competing against others identified only by numbers.

Craig King, president of J.P. King Co., who conducted the auction, also refused to identify the bidders, even while acknowledging they were doing business with an agent of the court.

On Friday, Davidson said he was in the process of sending letters to the 19 bidders, telling them the media was requesting the information.

“I will not provide information as to any registered bidder unless that bidder consents to release of that information, or unless I am ordered by the court to disclose that information,” Davidson said in his letter to the registered bidders.


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