Detroit land bank board set to vote on leadership changes

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Land Bank Authority board on Friday will hold a special meeting to vote on leadership changes. 

The board is set to vote on a "transition agreement" with its executive director, Saskia Thompson, and whether to enter into an employment agreement with an interim director, according to an agenda released Thursday. 

The board of the Detroit Land Bank Authority is set to vote Friday on a "transition agreement" with its executive director, Saskia Thompson. Thompson was hired by the board following a national search in 2017.

Alyssa Strickland, a spokeswoman for the land bank, told The Detroit News on Thursday that there won't be a comment provided ahead of the land bank board's Friday vote. 

A copy of the proposed agreement and proposed terms for an interim director were not immediately provided.

John Roach, a spokesman for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, deferred comment Thursday on the prospect of Thompson's departure to the land bank's board or staff.

The public authority has control of nearly all publicly owned residential structures in Detroit. It gains ownership of some of the city's most neglected homes through a nuisance lawsuit program and is dedicated to returning vacant, abandoned and foreclosed property to productive use.

The land bank board hired Thompson in July 2017 following a national search. The native Detroiter returned to the city from a position in Philadelphia, where she served as deputy finance director and sat on the city's planning commission. She also headed up Philly's Office of Property Data. 

Thompson, a former public policy assistant to former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, is a Cass Technical High School graduate with a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.

She stepped in as CEO that September to contend with its aging property portfolio amid a federal criminal probe into demolition efforts.

Her early focus was on improving the authority’s staffing structure, transparency and collaborating with city agencies on long-term plans for land use.

She replaced Carrie Lewand-Monroe, who departed for private development work.

The land bank in recent years has endured a string of high-ranking staff shakeups, including leadership in its demolition program.

Under Thompson, the land bank implemented new policies for selling off vacant land with a greater emphasis on giving access first. 

The land bank also helped oversee, along with the Detroit Building Authority, the city's federally funded demolition program. The $265 million program took down more than 15,000 houses between spring 2014 and August 2020. But it also was the subject of federal, state and local reviews and investigations over bidding practices and costs. 

The department also has faced scrutiny and was involved in a high-profile battle with HGTV star Nicole Curtis. 

Curtis, a Lake Orion native featured in the show "Rehab Addict Rescue," filed a lawsuit against the land bank over the house and ultimately gained control of the rundown property to pursue her renovation plans. 

In 2020, an independent audit of the land bank's accounting practices flagged concerns over vendor payments, demolition records to back up costs and weak internal controls.

The forensic audit commissioned by Detroit's auditor general examined four years' worth of financial statements, more than a dozen bank accounts and general ledgers to evaluate how city funding was recorded and spent by the land bank from Jan. 1, 2014, through July 30, 2019. 

Thompson struck back in a 45-page response to the auditor general and to Detroit’s City Council, arguing that the audit had “numerous errors, oversights, and omissions" and that "the data isn't missing."