Indicted Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars ruled ineligible for ballot over outstanding campaign filings, fees

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Taylor — Indicted Mayor Rick Sollars is ineligible to appear on the August primary ballot over his failure to file campaign finance reports and pay thousands of dollars in late fees, a city official ruled late Friday.

Taylor City Clerk Cynthia Bower told The Detroit News on Saturday that she made the "difficult" ruling late Friday after carefully investigating a challenge to Sollars' candidacy submitted by a City Council hopeful earlier in the week.

"I must protect the integrity of the election, that is No. 1," Bower said. "It's a difficult decision to make, but I had no choice but to not certify his candidacy. The law is very clear and the candidate must not have any outstanding fines or reports. I had to follow the law."

Sollars could not be reached Saturday for comment. On Saturday afternoon, he posted on Facebook that he is running for reelection and pursuing all available legal options "to ensure that a select group of candidates do not take away your ability to vote for the Mayoral candidate of your choice.

"I am saddened to see this effort being backed by current elected officials and others with aspirations of being your voice in the future. I have never quit on the City of Taylor and I am humbly asking you not to quit on me."

Bower said the legal challenge to Sollars' candidacy is uncharted for Taylor and came into play under a Michigan law that went into effect in late 2018. Sollars, she said, has the option of seeking an appeal of her decision or waging a write-in campaign.

aylor Mayor Rick Sollars speaks during his State of the City address on Feb. 21, 2019, in Taylor, just two days after the FBI raided his home and Taylor City Hall.

The decision brings a new set of obstacles for Sollars, who was indicted on federal bribery and wire fraud charges in December of 2019 and accused of helping a developer obtain city-owned properties in exchange for free work on his home and vacation chalet.

Bower posted the official candidate list for the Aug. 3 primary on the city's website late Friday. Three mayoral candidates will appear on the ballot: incumbent Councilman Tim Woolley, State Rep. Alex Garza, D-Taylor, and Jeff Jones, a former congressional candidate for the state's 12th District. 

Martin Drouillard, a Taylor City Council candidate and vocal opponent of Sollars, told The News that he lodged the complaint against Sollars with Bower because "I want the people in this city to be held accountable for their actions."

"This is not a good thing for the city," he said Saturday. "Nobody has trust anymore."

The complaint, filed on Drouillard's behalf by attorney Andrew Paterson, notes Sollars' campaign committee failed to file at least seven campaign finance reports and resolve $2,500 in late filing fees prior to the April 20 filing deadline. 

The outstanding documents and payments violate the state act, Paterson wrote, which prohibits candidates from being certified for the ballot if they sign Affidavits of Identity that contain "false statements."

Sollars' Facebook page included an April 15 post of a picture of him holding up his campaign paperwork, declaring he was "officially transitioning into election mode."

But Paterson, in the complaint, notes when Sollars signed and submitted his affidavit and nominating petitions, campaign committee documents from 2020, 2019 and 2018 had not been filed, and a number of fees were delinquent. 

Bower said she reviewed the allegations and consulted with state election officials before rendering her decision that Sollars did not qualify for the ballot. 

"I applaud and commend Taylor City Clerk Cindy Bower for properly enforcing the Michigan Election Law," Paterson said in an email. "The law, as recently amended by the Michigan Legislature, is clear: filing an affidavit of identity containing a false statement prevents a local city clerk or election commission from certifying the name of a candidate to appear on the ballot."  

Public records show that Sollars signed the affidavit, attesting that his candidate committee was up to date on filings, fines or fees. Lisa Williams, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Clerk's Office, also confirmed in a Thursday email to The News that Sollars "still has outstanding campaign finance issues."

A specific accounting of the documents and fees that remain outstanding for Sollars was not immediately available Friday from Wayne County election officials. But records show that his campaign made multiple filings on Friday, including a campaign finance disclosure for contributions and expenditures from Jan. 1, 2021, through April 18, 2021. The filing reflects $5,000 in contributions during the reporting period and an ending balance of $109,735.

Officials with the Michigan Secretary of State's Office and Wayne County Clerk's Office did not immediately respond Saturday to requests for comment. 

Sollars, who was first elected to the post in 2013, announced his plans to run for a third four-year term in a January video message on his Facebook page, touting improved city finances, services, parks and affordable housing opportunities under his tenure. In the social media post, he noted he first ran for mayor in 2013 to "change Taylor for the better."

"I stand committed to fight for you for the future of our community, every hour of every day," Sollars said in the video. "We didn't come this far to only come this far."

Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars April 15, 2021, Facebook post after turning in his affidavit of identity and petition signatures for the Aug. 3, 2021 primary election.

Taylor Councilman Butch Ramik told The News that Sollars' indictment placed a burden on the community and he's been disappointed that Sollars hasn't stepped down. 

"He's leaving a dark cloud over the city," he said. "The black eye won't heal until it's over with."

An alleged real estate conspiracy

Sollars is accused of heading a conspiracy with real estate mogul Shady Awad and Jeffrey Baum, the Taylor community development manager, and of receiving bribes. In exchange, the mayor helped Awad's real estate development company, Realty Transition, and other developers obtain dozens of tax-foreclosed homes in the city, federal prosecutors said. 

FBI agents in 2018 conducted raids at Taylor City Hall and searched Sollars' home and chalet, seizing $205,993 found in the mayor's house. The 33-count indictment alleged the conspiracy spanned from 2015-19. 

FBI agents searched the home of Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019.

But longtime resident Nancy Stawiarski, who has been active in Taylor politics for two decades, said she's supported Sollars in the past and continues to stand behind him.

The pending federal case against Sollars "has absolutely no influence on my view of him or his leadership," she said in an email to The News. "I see the progress of our community and that progress is built on the back of a great leader."

Stawiarski, 53, contends Sollars is a "strong and qualified leader," noting when he first took office Taylor's finances were a mess and the city was on the brink of receivership. 

In 2013, the city was faced with a $5 million deficit. As of June 30, 2020, the city had a fund balance near $9 million, according to the city's most recent annual financial audit. 

"Mayor Sollars has worked endlessly to improve all aspects of our city," she said, noting park amenities, service and public safety improvements and how the city has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis. 

"He is a visible, take-charge personality, who works with obvious determination to improve all aspects of our community," she added. "His love for Taylor is as evident as his tremendous work ethic."

Longtime Taylor resident Amy Atwood said she supported Sollars' mayoral campaign in 2013 and was happy to see him elected. But she contends "he's not the same person."

Atwood, who got involved in city politics in 2012 and acts as a watchdog, regularly recording Taylor meetings and monitoring campaign contributions, said she and other residents are unhappy with what Sollars had promised compared to what he's delivered. 

"There's a lot of disappointment in what he's doing and what he said he was going to do," said Atwood, 73, who is running for a council seat in the August primary.

"My personal opinion is anybody that's got an indictment ... should not be running for mayor again," she added. "Since all of this happened, I really don't have any confidence in him."