Fair board offers reimbursement for sale ring mishap

By Sarah Pridgeon

With the help of a mediator from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s Mediation Program, the Crook County Fair Board has come to a mutual agreement with the Fordyces regarding the prize steer that was accidentally sold for a lower amount than was received through a phone-in bid.

The issue was discussed at a special meeting of the board on December 19, overseen by mediator Larry Bentley. Both the board and the owner of the prize steer were invited to share their sides of the story and discuss a mutually acceptable solution.

Teresa and Riley Fordyce presented their complaint, explaining that Riley’s steer had competed at the fair and won grand champion, following all the regulations and rules given to them along the way. They were instructed to direct phone-in bids to the Sale Superintendent and so included this information in the letter sent out to local businesses inviting them to attend the Junior Livestock Sale.

The Fordyces presented confirmation from the phone-in bidder of the maximum bid of $4 to $4.50 he submitted to the Sale Superintendent. The prize steer was sold to another bidder for $3 per pound at the sale and the phone-in bidder, who was not present at the sale, assumed his bid had been lower than the one accepted.

The phone-in bidder later enquired with the Fordyces as to how much the steer had sold for and was surprised to hear it was less than his bid. Riley Fordyce consequently did not receive enough money from the sale to repay the loan she had taken out for the project, although the bank from whom she took the loan, also the winning bidders, did offer to help her cover her expenses.

“When we brought this to the board’s attention, we were told not much could be done because we didn’t know about it until September, but this is the same fiscal year,” said Teresa, sharing documented past errors that were corrected, including a weight misprint. “This wasn’t done on purpose, it was just a mistake – just like someone accidentally wrote down the wrong number on the weight misprint.”

The sale of the grand champion is required at the Junior Livestock Sale, with two percent subtracted for advertising. “The board set forth all these rules, but they do not seem to want to follow them,” commented Teresa.

Teresa expressed her desire to make sure all the facts of the case were shared, explaining that the issue has been going on a long time with a lot of “craziness” around it.

“We’ve had fair board members trying to get information on our loan from the bank – that’s not okay. We’re not double-dipping or trying to get money from two places, we just want the fair amount that Riley is owed.”

The Fordyces also shared a letter from the auctioneer confirming he was unaware of the phone-in bid during the auction.

“I don’t have a complaint with the Sale Superintendent, but with the board,” concluded Teresa. “It’s their responsibility and I feel they have gone to any lengths to ‘win,’ and that’s troubling. It’s been crazy and handled badly. They were given the information in September, it took until November to be told we needed to pay $50 to make a complaint.”

“I have trust issues now,” added Riley. “I don’t know if I want to show again next year, I might not get enough money back for it again.”

Sandy Neiman, Sale Superintendent, presented the situation from her point of view, explaining that $4-$4.50 had been the maximum bid, not the starting bid, and that situation was simply a mistake.

“[The representative] thought he had the bid, but the auctioneer did not see him and the auction was not reopened,” she said. “Nothing was done to Riley intentionally, there was no intentional harm to anybody.”

Neiman clarified the process by which the sale is run and her actions following the event, including checking with the bank to see if they would be paying the extra amount needed for Riley’s loan and bringing the mistake to the attention of the board.

“Part of the problem was that the two bidders were sitting close together,” said Neiman, explaining that the representative thought he had won the auction because the auctioneer had pointed in his direction.

She explained that a similar issue had occurred with a hog at the sale and, in that case, the auction had only been reopened because the person whose bid was not seen brought it to the attention of the auctioneer. She further commented that changes will be made in the future to make sure the ringmen are aware of buyers they should be paying attention to.

Bentley addressed the board following the discussion and asked them to consider two questions: whether the Fordyces were owed any money and what rules should be put in place for call-in bids to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again.

A motion was put forward to retire into executive session to discuss the issue but Andrea Wood, Board Member, expressed her desire for the discussion to remain public. As Teresa Fordyce has mentioned her intention to “move forward with the issue” if it was not resolved at the meeting, Attorney Joe Baron informed the board that, because the only remedy would be for the Fordyces to sue them, executive session would be permissible on the ground of potential litigation.

Wood reiterated her preference, commenting that her interpretation of “move forward” was not necessarily litigious, at which Board Member Wayne Garman withdrew his motion. Wood then moved to reimburse Riley for 25 cents per pound for her steer, the next increment it would have received at the sale.

“There are all sorts of pickles with this sort of sale and everyone involves knows the risks, but it’s important for us to recognize that a junior sale is a different scenario and must be handled differently,” said Wood.

She explained her reasoning for suggesting the 25 cent reimbursement, drawing attention to the fact that the mistake was admitted and that Neiman had commented she would have done something about it at the time had she known. “Because it wasn’t fixed at the time, it is now the responsibility of the board,” she added.

Wood expressed disappointment that the board had not been able to move forward ethically and cohesively and pointed out that the complaint had been “bungled” by the board as they had not been aware of their own regulations in charging a $50 fee for a complaint.

“We established a precedent at the fair with the hog, that is what shouldn’t have been done,” she concluded, explaining that her suggestion was 25 cents because $4-$4.50 was the maximum price, not the minimum. Garman added his agreement to Wood’s suggestion, saying, “I do believe you are entitled to the 25 cents.”

Wood then moved to reimburse the Fordyces for the complaint fee of $50 on the basis that it had been found to be a valid complaint. Upon being asked by Bentley whether the Fordyces would like to counter or accept the 25 cent offer, however, Teresa stated that she disagreed with the amount.

“I don’t feel it’s appropriate,” she said. “The information from the auctioneer says that, if they had been aware a bid had been put in for the amount, they would have made the steer bring that amount. It’s a seller’s market, we’re not here for rock bottom prices.”

“They were willing to spend that amount and the auctioneers would have made sure they got that. 25, to me, is a slap in the face – if [the representative] had followed through, we would have gotten the full amount.”

Wood asked Senator Ogden Driskill for his opinion of whether the full amount would have been achieved at the auction.

“This is for kids,” said Driskill. “When someone gives a solid bid, I’ve never seen them not get it. It’s common practice to run the bids up, but they will make it bring that amount.”

“In the past, we’ve registered phone-in bids with the ringman and that steer would have brought the $4.50,” added Hal Bowles, previous member of the committee in charge of the sale.

“I asked for 25 cents as there was no evidence to say the auction would have gone that high,” responded Wood. “Given what we’ve heard about past sales in real markets as well as for kids, and common practices, my opinion is that we should give you the extra 75 cents, but there’s no evidence it would have gone to $4.50.”

A representative from the bank that won the bid added, “We were the only bidders and we only bid once – how do you know how high we would have gone?”

“We don’t, there’s no way to know,” said Wood, making a motion to reimburse an additional 75 cents, bringing the total to $1 to meet the potential $4 per pound the steer could have brought.

Garman questioned the amount, saying, “I’m having a hard time saying the steer was going to bring $4 because this was an auction, and we don’t know.”

“I had the same hang-up, but Hal has long involvement with this fair’s history and functioning,” countered Wood. “That he said they would have got it there convinced me, especially as this is a youth sale, it’s special. Does 25 cents truly reimburse the mistake? No. Why? The bid was up to $4.”

“Wouldn’t you be questioning how the sale was run to not bring the bid that was given?” she continued. “This is not a bull sale or a random horse sale, people do work harder and it is a seller’s market. So was this fair to the buyer or the seller? No, not to either person. The mistake was made and the auctioneer and people with experience of the fair are saying they would have got the bid there.”

The motion to reimburse Riley Fordyce for $1 per pound for her prize steer was passed by the board along with a second motion for the Fair Board to publish a formal apology detailing what happened and how the mistake was reimbursed. The board also announced its intention to look at policies at its next regular meeting.