City commission to decide fate of museum’s dolls

HARLINGEN — The Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum moved a step closer to ridding its storage rooms of about five dozen collectible dolls which don’t fit into its mission.

The museum board on Wednesday listened to options on selling the doll collection. For years the dolls in their individual shoe boxes have gathered dust in the adjacent Historical Museum storeroom, but as renovations to that building continue, space is now at a premium.

A complicating factor is the dolls originally were donated to the Harlingen Public Library, which gifted the collection to the museum. Since there were no records of who made the original donation, the city can’t return them to the donor.

Usually the city sells surplus items at auction where the public works and police departments are big sellers of used or confiscated equipment.

“We consulted with the city attorney on this matter, simply because there wasn’t a lot of information, or any information, from the library about the donation of the dolls,” Joel Humphries, arts and entertainment director for the city, told the board Wednesday. “With that being said, we approached the city attorney and in my conversations with Gabe (Gabe Gonzalez, assistant city manager) as well, PD does this kind of thing all the time.”

“Not for dolls,” responded Gonzalez.

Museum board members have voiced their concern that the dolls — the museum valued them at $8,700 for insurance purposes — might be lost among the worn, paint-chipped backhoes and aged lawnmowers tagged for sale at the usual city auction.

Much better to auction them off by themselves, they say.

In response to the museum board’s request for clarification on the legalities of auctioning the dolls, Assistant City Attorney Allison Bastian responded to Gonzalez in a memo outlining the obstacles to a sale.

“Because the dolls were donated (as opposed to abandoned) and they may still have some value or still be useful for their intended purpose, I would probably consider this ‘surplus property.’ That, of course, is something the City Commission would have to make a finding on,” Bastian wrote.

So the next step in the doll collection’s fate is to have city commissioners declare it surplus property.

“At which point then we will be able to publish an ad in the paper,” Humphries told the board. “It would be a good idea to perhaps put the dolls on display here in the lobby so that people can come by and take a look at them, provide information about the bid process and let them know they are available for auction.”

Board members merely discussed the situation without taking any action since they already voted to de-access the dolls from the museum collection. They agreed to send the City Commission paperwork supporting the “surplus property” designation.

Once a decision is made, the dolls can be disposed of humanely, either through the usual city auction, or a special one targeting doll collectors. They may find a more congenial home with one of the latter.

“One of the things we talked about with the dolls, with a number of things we have here, is to put them out there for the city auction, you’re getting bottom dollar for it, that’s all you’re ever going to get for it,” Humphries said after the meeting. “And there are people that have an interest this type of stuff and there are collectors out there and we want to get in front of them. I think we’re on the right track.”