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Shores Resident Files Complaint with State

After being kicked out of a Board of Review hearing last week, a Grosse Pointe Shores resident has filed a complaint with the State Tax Commission.

resident Charles Leahy has made it his mission to improve public access to Board of Review hearings—the annual process in which homeowners can seek tax relief for a variety of reasons.

Ultimately the decisions impact each of the cities fiscal budgets because any reductions the Board of Review approve reduce the amount of income for that particular city.

Leahy has been attending hearings since 2010 throughout the Grosse Pointes and last year his complaints yielded changes in , where the hearings were previously held in a small conference room that was unwelcoming to the public. Now the Park is holding the hearings in a much larger space with more seating.

Leahy has filed a complaint with the State Tax Commission after being kicked out of a Board of Review hearing in Grosse Pointe Shores last week despite the attempted intervention of several legal and state officials.

He informed council Tuesday of his complaint and his frustration with how the Shores has handled the process. Last week, while he was allowed to attend the portion of the hearing in which the resident presented a case for tax relief, he was kicked out of the hearing when the board members began deliberations. 

The situation escalated, leading him to file a police report with Director of Public Safety John Schulte. He intervened during the hearings after contacting the Shores attorney Mark McInerney, who explained Leahy should be allowed to attend the entire hearing.

Schulte advised the board but they refused to allow Leahy to attend, Schulte told Patch.

According to the police report, the Shores assessor Tim O'Donnell also advised the board that the entire meeting should be open and accessible to the public. An official from the Wayne County Equalization department also agreed with Leahy when he contacted the office and offered to have the board members call for the information.

Leahy has also sent his complaint and the police report to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, he told council Tuesday. The information he gave to the State Tax Commission has now been forwarded on to the Michigan Attorney General's office, he said, holding up an email he had received earlier in the day Tuesday.

He also highlighted his treatment by the Shores Board of Review last year, in which John Lizza publicly announced to council that he kicked Leahy out because he believes the hearings should be closed. He also laughed as he explained his thoughts about access, scoffing at the idea of allowing the public to attend.

Lizza, who chairs the Board of Review for the Shores, has been on it for years. He was among the board members hearing cases the day Leahy was kicked out of the meetings repeatedly.

As was Janice Pemberton, who told the council Tuesday, the board felt the deliberation portion of the meeting is allowed to be done in private as a jury does in the court system. She explained that the board members had received different information about that portion of the meeting from officials.

Pemberton explained to council that in the 14 years she served on the Board of Review she has never experienced problems like this and she said Leahy was disruptive to the hearing process.

She also explained that often sensitive information is shared during the Board of Review hearings, when a taxpayer may be asking for a hardship exemption or revealing a buyer/seller agreement that she believes should not be public.

Attorney Gary Wilson, of , said Board of Review hearings are part of Michigan's Open Meetings Act. Furthermore, he said "tax valuations are a matter of public record."

"There is nothing that would happen in a meeting that would fall under the privacy exemption," Wilson said.

Holding open Board of Review hearings is especially important in smaller communities like the Grosse Pointes because there is a much greater chance that property owner may know one of the board members as a close friend, relative or neighbor, Wilson said.

In addition to ensuring property owners are taxed appropriately, the Board of Review has a great deal of power and the way to ensure that is not abused is by having it fall under the Open Meetings Act, Wilson said.

Leahy urged council to take his complaints seriously to avoid having the State Tax Commission take over their Board of Review duties, which he said would also cut their collection portion of the payments and further reduce the Shores income.

He also questioned to the Shores council why the Board of Review failed to follow the direction of several local and state legal and tax officials, saying their defiance should be addressed.

George R. McMullen Jr. March 23, 2012 at 11:01 AM
I hope this issue is resolved quickly. I believe that the board of review in Grosse Pointe Shores has a different opinion on the application of the open meetings act and its intent weather correct or incorrect is to protect citizens privacy and not to violate the act.
Becky March 23, 2012 at 11:16 AM
OMA is call the Sunshine Law for a reason - so deliberations regarding how our government makes decisions can be witnessed by the taxpayers who are footing the bill. The person who pays for it owns it. Government cannot operate behind closed doors. Period.
Ulrike Sherer March 23, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Amen
The Village Malcontent March 23, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Then residents let's make sure EACH and EVERY city council in the Grosse Pointes televise their entire council meetings on the public access channels that are operated by the Grosse Pointe War Memorial which are subsidized by OUR cable bills. City councils take actions that affect all its citizens whereas the board of review takes action that affect an individual citizen. Currently, the committee of the whole meetings for the Grosse Pointe Woods council are held in a small room that allows for about 6 citizens to sit against a crowded wall instead of their council chambers. WHY?
Becky March 23, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Agree! We have the technology and capability to televise, so why not? BTW, the board of review decision impact property taxes for the entire community, one way or the other, hence it is public business. Remember, at any time we can look at the tax rolls for any property any time we want. Same difference.
Tim March 23, 2012 at 02:08 PM
I was just in front of the Board of Review in Grosse Ponte Park. When I asked a person on the board what his qualifications were he told me it was none of my business! And to think this persons input may affect the outcome of the Boards decision.
Sara Eaton Martin (Editor) March 23, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Just to clarify, the Board of Review decisions impact the individual taxpayer/property owner but it does ultimately have an impact upon the whole community because it determines the income the municipality will receive in any given year from taxes. So for example, if the Board of Review were to start granting a large number of requests, it would dwindle the city's budget. Depending on the health of the budget, city officials can raise taxes if the funding doesn't meet the expenses they anticipate for a particular year.
A lawyer in Grosse Pointe March 23, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Those people criticizing the G. P. Boards of Review haven’t obviously read the Open Meetings Act. The Act defines meeting as “a meeting to settle questions of PUBLIC POLICY”. Obviously Boards of Review have nothing to do with establishing public policy. Their function is quasi-judicial in that they decide whether the Assessor has correctly assessed ONE PIECE of private property. No one has addressed the distinction between the hearing which is OPEN and the deliberations of the Board which are not and which deliberations are analogous to judges or juries deliberating. Rather than leave the room themselves, they ask the audience to leave while they deliberate and decide. Would you expect that a party in a criminal or civil action should be permitted to go into the jury room? Interestingly, research fails to show any Court decisions on the question And by the way, the complainant, Mr. Leahy is not even a property owner. -A lawyer in Grosse Pointe
B.S. PEMBOB March 24, 2012 at 01:47 AM
only a lawyer in Grosse Pointe would come up with that,but not surprised. For those in the Shores just go back 3 years when Pemberton got to be a "voting member"' of the board and look at her A/V and that of want to be mayor Schulte and as someone said bedpan Bob Lee. See what they got from the "Board" , hard to have comps. when you are all ready the lowest on the street, maybe the 3 used Harper Woods comps. LOOK AND SEE SHORE RESIDENTS, YOU GUYS ARE GETTING THE SHAFT BY THE PEOPLE WHO WANTED OPEN MEETINGS, UNTIL PEMBERTON SAID THE DECISONS SHOULD BE CLOSED, SCHULTE FOR MAYOR BECAUSE THE NEW GUY IS AN EMPTY SUIT, BUT A FORENSIC CPA AND WHAT ELSE A "LAWYER" BIG DEAL
Becky March 24, 2012 at 11:45 AM
The OMA is interested in WHO is meeting, not what they are meeting about. It concerns the meeting of a "public body" and says that public bodies must meet in public. It defines a public body as as ANY state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, commission, committee, subcommittee, authority, or council empowered by the state constitution.......and so on. It states that all meetings of a public body are to be open to the public and that all decisions of a public body are to be made at an open meeting of the public. It goes on the say that in Sec 3(3) "All deliberations of a public body constituting a quorum of its members shall take place at a meeting open to the public except as provided in this section and sections 7 and 8." I encourage everyone to read up. You can do so at: http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-20988_18160---,00.html
George R. McMullen Jr. March 24, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Becky great link on information on the open meetings act well done...G
Becky March 24, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Thanks George. This is a matter of law, not opinion, IMHO.
George R. McMullen Jr. March 24, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Becky back at you I like the comments that offer information or solutions your's was perfect I'm going to print all the dicuments and review them carefully Have a great weekend G
The Village Malcontent March 24, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Sara: So now, as a result of Mr. Leahy's intervention, any resident in any of the Grosse Pointes, except the Shores, can attend a meeting of the board of review along with the deliberations to establish taxable value? If so, are those who appeal their taxes advised or invited to remain through the deliberations in the other Grosse Pointes?
Becky March 24, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Any person (member of the public) can attend any meeting held by a public body as defined by the OMA. You do not have to be a resident of a particular community, or even state. We are all people and we are all members of the public.
The Village Malcontent March 24, 2012 at 05:23 PM
SARA: Let me restate my question. In any of the Grosse Pointes exclusive of Grosse Pointe Shores is a PERSON allowed to attend the presentation to a board of review which is clearly an open meeting and further can any PERSON (or resident/homeowner/presenter) then attend the deliberations of that board of review subsequent to the presentation?
Sara Eaton Martin (Editor) March 24, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Members of the public are allowed to attend both portions of the meetings in other Grosse Pointes as well as other communities outside of the Pointes. I know that in some of the meetings, the boards will thank the petitioner and explain that they will receive notice of their decision in the mail, which sometimes prompts the property owner to leave but yes, in the other cities people are allowed to sit through the deliberations portion of the meeting. The other thought to add on to my last comment is that the property taxes go to fund a variety of programs and budgets beyond even the city budget, so those are also impacted by Board of Review decisions.
Becky March 24, 2012 at 08:19 PM
The OMA is a state law. Grosse Pointe Shores does not have any sort of exclusion just because it wishes to. The issue will be resolved by the State Attorney General soon enough.
Becky March 24, 2012 at 08:25 PM
From the Michigan Attorney General's web site - AG Opinions: "It is clear that a board of tax review is a local governing body empowered by statute to exercise governmental authority and that a finding of the board of review is a 'decision' within the meaning of section 2(d) of the Open Meetings Act. It is also clear that its determinations effectuate public policy. Thus, the meetings of boards of review are subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act." http://www.ag.state.mi.us/opinion/datafiles/1970s/op05281.htm
George R. McMullen Jr. March 24, 2012 at 10:44 PM
What a wild fire of comment on the board of review which many residents don't even know exists. As a member of the board of review in Grosse Pointe Woods I would like to thank Mr. Leahy for bringing this important government process to the attention of the public. I have been on the board for 3 1/2 years and we have never received this much attention. I believe its all due to the work of Mr. Leahy and I thank him for being a good public activist, and citizen.
The Village Malcontent March 25, 2012 at 12:27 AM
George: As a Grosse Pointe Woods resident I would encourage you to take action to make sure that your city council is totally transparent. I gather the "real" discussions occur at the committee of the whole in a room the size of a sardine can and some residents don't even realize they can enter the meeting. And... none of the council meetings in any of the Pointes are televised. This matter should be corrected in ALL of the Pointes. All the Pointes should provide access to their city council meetings using the available technology, technology that was not available when OMA was written. Ironically, the only Pointe that has the guts to let their citizens see the political process at work is Grosse Pointe Shores. Go figure.
George R. McMullen Jr. March 25, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. The Village Malcontent I could respond in detail to your above comment however as I normally don't like to assume I believe in you case I will. With your handle as "the Village Malcontent" I can only assume you have no interest in helping or listening to other opinions. I could list the ways in which Grosse Pointe Woods operates and how open they are, however I'm sure what ever statement I made would never be good enough. These are trying times and your city (where ever that is) needs help and suggestions. As an example "Becky" posted a link to the information on the open meetings act. Now that's an e-mail with information and suggestions. As a citizen your right to complain and hide your identity is something I will defend however I will not respect. Complaining solves nothing and helps no one. May I suggest that you change your handle identify yourself and start helping. Easy to complain in that it requires little time.... hard to help but has many more benefits for all. If you would like to discuss further drop by I’m at 1382 Hollywood GP Woods MI we can discuss further ......Have a great Sunday and if you live in the Grosse Pointes even with all our issues you live in the best place in the world..
Robert Payne March 27, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Tim, You should take your complaint to the city council. When I presented my case and questioned the impact of the city using the overflow parking lot as a dump/DPW storage one of the members told me if it bothered me don't use the park. Just think these people are appointed by the mayor and approved by council, kind of sad isn't it.
Robert Payne March 27, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Mr. Lizza, You should take your thoughts to the state, I think you would be very surprised with their answer.

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