Appointment delayed, commission makeup to be reviewed
Detroit — The mayor’s administration on Tuesday withdrew a request from the City Council agenda seeking confirmation of a new appointment to a historic commission that’s under scrutiny.
The delay comes as the council’s legal staff shared a report that calls into question the process for conducting appointments to the Historic District Commission. The findings of the Legislative Policy Division will now be studied in a council subcommittee.
“Red flags were raised so we’ll see what the report says in terms of the appointment process and go from there,” Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said after Tuesday’s meeting. “For the checks of transparency, there should be an analysis of it.”
The commission has been undergoing a shakeup in its membership in recent weeks ahead of a controversial request by Olympia Development of Michigan to tear down a historic building in the footprint of the new Red Wings arena.
In the memorandum to the council, legal staff noted that the historic commission’s makeup is mandated by the Michigan Local Historic Districts Act. Members of the board are appointed by the mayor and must be confirmed by the council.
Among the requirements, the act says an appointing authority with a population of 25,000 or more shall appoint at least two members from a list of residents submitted by one or more local historic preservation organizations. The council’s legal department was unable to verify that has occurred for current commission members.
The council’s policy staff, in its memo to council members, says the city’s sole group dedicated exclusively to historic preservation and its state counterpart had not, during the tenure of any current commission members, provided such a list as required by the state act.
The policy division also wrote it’s unaware of any other historic organizations submitting a list, or if one was turned in by the architect organization.
John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said Tuesday that the city has been conducting a “detailed review” of the history of appointments to the board in the wake of the qualification issues raised by the council’s legal staff.
Roach, in an email, noted that commission chairman Devan Anderson is a registered architect with experience in historic preservation who has served under two previous mayors and was confirmed by council. He was reappointed in July 2014.
In reference to the code requiring that two members be selected from lists submitted by historical preservation societies, Roach pointed to records that show commissioner James Hamilton meets the criteria.
“City records reflect that members of the Historic Boston Edison District Board made a written recommendation in 2012 of James Hamilton and that Mayor Bing made the appointment of Commissioner Hamilton following those written recommendations,” Roach wrote.
President Brenda Jones had directed legal staff to clarify procedures for filling vacancies on the seven-member commission after the recent appointments for two of its seats.
One historic commission member resigned because he is moving out of the city; Duggan asked another to step down for having an expired term. Duggan’s office says another two members also are serving on expired terms and will be replaced.
The member whose term expired already has been replaced. The council on Tuesday was supposed to consider West Village resident Dennis Miriani as the replacement for David Cartwright, who stepped down last week after announcing his plans to move out of the city for a new job. Detroit residency is a requirement to serve.
In July 2014, Duggan appointed Lauren Hood, a board member of Preservation Detroit, to the commission based on her “strong ties to the historic preservation community,” Roach said Tuesday.
He added that Preservation Detroit did not submit a written list or recommendation prior to Hood’s appointment.
The administration has asked the Law Department to review whether Hood qualifies as the second board member representing preservation societies.
If not, Roach said the mayor will fill Cartwright’s vacant seat with an individual nominated in writing by a historic preservation society or district commission.
Duggan’s office earlier this month removed another commissioner, Julie Long, who’d had an expired term. Boston Edison resident Kenneth Sanders was soon appointed to replace her.
The timing is sensitive because the historic commission is considering a request by Olympia to tear down the Park Avenue hotel as part of the new arena development. The request had been slated to go before the commission last Tuesday, but was pulled by Olympia; a new date for the vote is expected the first week of June.
If the historic commission denies Olympia’s request, the company must seek approval from the state historic commission. If that is rejected, then Olympia would need to go to court.
According to the administration, the term reviews were tied to a systematic audit of the membership status of all 76 boards and commissions appointed by the city that began early last year.
There is no immediate timetable for when any other seats may be switched out, officials have said.