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Bremerton’s American Legion Post 68 sells its regalia to get out of bankruptcy
Bargain hunters, restaurant owners, and more than one Kitsap charity looked for deals, even as other community members took the time to say goodbye in their own way last Thursday, as items from bingo daubers to dishwashers were sold at auction to cover the debts of Bremerton’s bankrupt American Legion Post 68.
The auction came as a final step in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing begun in April of this year, a controversial action following years of mismanagement, dwindling cash reserves, and revocation of the organization’s charter by the American Legion Department of Washington, the state arm of the national organization.
“It’s like a funeral,” said Johnny McCord, a 27-year member of the post and recent vice commander. “I’m sad to leave the building because this was a landmark for the veterans and the community.”
Under a Chapter 7 filing, the assets of an organization are sold at a public auction, in this case by Stokes Auction Boardman-Orwiler Corp. Proceeds from the liquidation are then used to pay off creditors.
Many objected to the Chapter 7 filing, including the state arm of the organization and a majority of the post’s members, primarily on the grounds that such ‘fire sale’ type liquidations usually result in assets being sold at extremely low prices.
Most of those objecting advocated filing under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code instead.
Under Chapter 11, a judge reorganizes an organization’s debt and establishes an order in which creditors are to be repaid, allowing the organization to continue in business even during and after the filing.
Organizations that still have some income but simply stopped being able to keep up with payments on their debts often emerge from Chapter 11 after some time, and are able to resume business as usual.
Dale Davis, adjutant of the state branch of the organization, said at the time that he was “puzzled” by the bankruptcy sale choice.
The post, which operated weekly bingo games as a well as a tavern on its Spruce Avenue property, showed more than $680,000 in yearly gambling receipts alone.
At the time, the Bremerton Police opened an investigation questionable financing at the organization, but placed it on hold soon after.
Ultimately, the bankruptcy judge in charge of the case allowed the post’s elected officers, including John Corriea, the post commander, and Paul Young, the post adjutant, to continue with the Chapter 7 sale, saying that the state arm of the organization could not order the post to take specific financial action, and that the vote of the members was advisory only.
Daryl Casson, previously a trustee at the post, said that the loss of the building was unfortunate, the real loss was the collection of memorabilia, flags, and old regalia at the building, much of which he said had been donated by veterans and the community.
The post, Casson said, had in his experience been a place veterans could come and unwind, have a beer, and talk to people who knew what trauma and even post-traumatic stress disorder were like, and could help them cope.
Still, Casson said, he also saw the sale as a rebirth after a bad stretch in the post’s history.
“It’s done, it’s over with. We can get things clean and get back to where we’re from.”
Many at the auction were like Chris Harris, who said he came because he heard about the auction through the auctioneer’s calendar, had little or nothing to say about the bankruptcy, and said he hadn’t paid much attention to the post while it was there.
In the main hall, the auctioneer worked his way along the edge of the room, starting behind the bar, then moving around to the front of the room, and finally to the door, auctioning everything in his path in a staccato, amplified by a portable speaker, broadcast by a compact headset.
“You can have the cameras,” he said, referring to the camera monitor behind the bar. “So long as you don’t take the wires, we can’t damage the building.”
Next came the projector and screen, a dry-erase board, stacks of chairs and booster seats by the walls, a meat slicer.
Finally, he moved into a small hallway, always in the middle of the width of his waving arms.
In last week’s August heat, bargain hunters packed into the narrow space of the post’s hallway.
Beside them on the wall, facing out into the main hall, was a whiteboard.
A man’s name was on it, presumably a veteran, along with a phone number and a note that he had hurt his leg, and that someone should keep in touch with him.