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Activist seeks to have Detroit Land Bank dissolved

The Detroit News

An activist and former Highland Park school board member is seeking to dissolve the Detroit Land Bank Authority amid claims it was formed illegally.

As director and founder of the newly created nonprofit Felon’s Crusade for Equality, Honesty and Truth, Robert Davis filed an emergency application Friday in Wayne County Circuit Court that ultimately requests the removal of the authority’s board members and ending its operations.

The issue centers on whether Detroit was “a qualified city” under a provision of state law that paved the way for the authority’s creation. That means one “that contains a first class school district and includes any department or agency of the city,” according to the court filing.

A growing number of vacant parcels — close to 100,000 — have been directed in recent years to the Detroit Land Bank, which has become a central repository for most city property, much of it inherited from the county foreclosure tax sale when properties don’t sell.

Davis’ attorney argues that when the city entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the Michigan Land Bank Authority Fast Track Authority in February 2009, its school district had fewer than 100,000 students — which state law defines as the threshold for making it first-class.

But a confidential legal opinion by the Dickinson Wright law firm found that when the state authority adopted a resolution approving the agreement in September 2008, “DPS was a first-class district and therefore the City was a qualified city under the Land Bank Act. … There is no requirement in the Land Bank Act that the city must remain a qualified city after it enters into the (intergovernmental agreement) in order for the authority to remain in existence.”

Davis, who was convicted of felony embezzlement in 2014 and sentenced to 18 months in prison, rejects the interpretation, though.

His court filing states that Detroit “did not, and currently does not, contain a first class school district within its city boundaries. … Consequently, the Respondents Land Bank Authority and its Board of Directors have no legal authority to be exercising any powers granted and authorized under the Land Bank Fast Track Act.”

However, Michael Brady, general counsel for the Detroit Land Bank Authority, said the legal opinion addressed its validity.

“The board did its appropriate due diligence back then and nothing has changed,” he said Friday.

The filing comes as Davis wages a separate battle with the land bank in the court to force the public release of a subpoena the authority received in May from federal inspectors conducting a criminal investigation.

The land bank oversees the city’s blight elimination program, which is primarily funded with federal dollars and came under scrutiny last fall amid concerns over rising costs and bidding practices.