Detroit Land Bank director resigns; board appoints interim leader

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Land Bank Authority board on Friday unanimously accepted the resignation of its executive director, Saskia Thompson, and appointed the deputy executive to serve in her role.

During a special meeting Friday morning, the Land Bank's Board of Directors approved the transition plan 5-0, appointing Tammy Daniels to serve as interim executive director. 

Thompson leaves the land bank after four years, "moving on to other opportunities," the board said. 

Detroit Land Bank Authority Executive Director Saskia Thompson resigned Friday. Thompson had led the authority since September 2015.

Erica Ward Gerson, the organization's board chair, wished Thompson well in her endeavors.

“We’re entering an exciting new phase at the land bank, where our focus can shift to offering enhanced opportunities for Detroiters to purchase our remaining structures, finding new and innovative uses for our vacant land holdings, and supporting our thousands of buyers through the renovation of their homes," Gerson said in a statement following the meeting. "Because of her many years of experience in senior positions in so many areas of the DLBA, Tammy Daniels is ideally suited to lead us in these new undertakings.”

Daniels joined the land bank as an attorney in 2015 and quickly became a part of the leadership team, serving as a deputy, then interim general counsel, demolition director and finally deputy executive director. 

Tammy Daniels is serving as interim executive director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority after current Executive Director Saskia Thompson resigned Friday.

She's a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. She also has a real estate background. 

The board noted that Daniels has helped the land bank's demolition program streamline operations and increase capacity in demolishing more than 15,000 structures.

In 2018, she spoke on the city's initiative to boost inclusion in demolition contracts, when about 28% of the contract dollars — or $48 million — had gone to women-owned or minority-owned businesses.

For the past two years, Daniels led the land bank's property rehabilitation arm, including the Compliance and Rehabbed & Ready programs.

Rehabbed & Ready Program, which renovates and sells homes to enhance property values in Detroit neighborhoods, has flipped and sold 93 homes since its debut in 2015 and is targeting 200 more over the next five years, directors told The Detroit News last summer.

Daniels said during the meeting she was excited for the opportunity and for where the land bank is headed.

“I see the hard work our buyers are putting into their communities every day, and as an organization, we are constantly learning and adapting to better support Detroiters who want to reactivate blighted property,” Daniels said in a statement following the vote. “It’s been a pleasure working with Saskia as part of this leadership team, and I’m confident I can lead the organization through a smooth transition as we develop plans to carry our mission into the future.”

During a special in-person meeting Friday morning, the Detroit Land Bank's Board of Directors approved a transition plan, appointing Deputy Executive Director Tammy Daniels to serve as interim executive director.

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

Any update on commencing a search or changing Daniels' status to permanent executive director would happen at an upcoming board meeting, said spokeswoman Alyssa Strickland.

When news of the change emerged Thursday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan spokesman John Roach deferred comment on the prospect of Thompson's departure.

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

The land bank board hired Thompson in July 2017 following a national search. She replaced Carrie Lewand-Monroe, who departed for private development work.

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.

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 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."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_