HOLLY TOWNSHIP, Michigan – Picket signs, a standing-room-only crowd, and many differing opinions added up to one explosive board meeting Wednesday night, as Oakland County Commissioner Bob Hoffman once again defended the property rights of residents Timm and Maria Smith in their ongoing legal battle against Holly Township.
Background Over the last five months, Hoffman has become involved in the Smiths’ lawsuit against Holly Township regarding ownership of a 10-acre portion of the 20-acre S. Holly Road property the Smiths once entirely owned. A legal land split of the parcel was never performed, and now the Smiths maintain that the mortgage on the 10-acre parcel on which they defaulted in 2008 was fraudulent.
The township is claiming ownership of the parcel, however, because a legal land split never occurred, the Smiths maintain that the township violated the Land Division Act, the fraudulent mortgage should thus be null and void, and that the property should revert to them.
The case is still lodged in the Michigan Appellate Court and is not scheduled to be heard for another 12 to 18 months. An eviction ruling by 52-2 District Court Judge Kelley Kostin was enforced on Feb. 27.
Since February, Timm and Maria...
Since then, the Smiths have vacated their home on the 10-acre parcel in question, moved all of their belongings and taken up residence in a recreational vehicle parked on the adjacent 5-acre parcel of land still belonging to them.
Last week, Hoffman asked to be added to the Holly Township Board of Trustees meeting so that he could ask township officials to reconsider the matter of the Smiths’ February eviction and allow them to reoccupy their home until the Michigan Court of Appeals rules on the matter sometime late next year.
Hoffman’s comments “What I’m asking this board to do is to put the Smith family back in their home until the Court of Appeals rules,” Hoffman said. “It has not been determined who owns this property yet – it’s in the Court of Appeals.”
Because the ownership of the parcel is in question, Hoffman said the township doesn’t have a marketable title to the property.
Oakland County Commissoner Bob...
“They can’t even buy title insurance for it, and they land locked the northern 5-acres of the Smiths’ property which they own,” Hoffman said. “The Smiths are living in a camper on the property – they have no place to go.”
Hoffman suggested that the township consider striking a deal with the Smiths, giving them occupancy of their old home in exchange for the Smiths maintaining the property.
“Until the Court of Appeals rules, let them have a roof over their heads,” Hoffman said. “They have two children, Mr. Smith has had five cancer surgeries, he’s broken his back prior to that, and had a stroke, so I’m just asking you to please have the courage to do this – I don’t believe it will affect anything other than it will show a lot of compassion from this board.” Holly officials discuss the matter Trustee Janet Leslie asked Hoffman what it meant to “put the Smiths back into the house.”
“You can make a deal with them,” Hoffman said. “When I talked to (Clerk Karin Winchester), she said they would need to pay rent, but there are ways to put people into township property as a caretaker with certain responsibilities.”
In doing so, Hoffman said the property would be better maintained than it is now. “The most important thing is this man who has been sick, his kids and their mother would have a roof over their heads.”
Supervisor Jesse Lambert discussed the idea of putting a Holly Township-initiated contract together, allowing the Smiths to reoccupy the dwelling in exchange for maintenance services until the Court of Appeals can make a ruling.
“The main problem with negotiating something like that at this point is that it is a dangerous building,” Winchester said, citing that the home has several violations and is not fit for occupancy.
“The bottom line is that it is still disputed ownership,” Hoffman said. “That’s why it’s in the Court of Appeals,” he added. “The township cannot go buy title insurance, they can’t market this piece of property, they can’t sell it to anybody – as a matter of fact, it violates the Land Division Act that the township is supposed to uphold. They land locked the parcel to the north along the river, and all that stuff needs to be fixed.”
Trustee Janet Leslie
“Any way you look at it, it’s costing the township taxpayers’ money for us to even possess this,” Trustee Janet Leslie said. “If there is a way to stop the bleeding of funds and make the code violations someone else’s issue – someone who happens to have an interest in living on that property, then it could be a win-win for them.”
Leslie eventually made a motion to the board, directing Attorney Greg Need to create a contract that would allow the Smiths to occupy the 10-acre parcel to which the township currently holds a deed on the condition that in a certain time period, the property and structures on the property are maintained, and brought up to code by the Smiths. Leslie’s motion also included that the township would not be financially responsible to bring the buildings up to code.
A lack of support among board members caused Leslie’s motion to die, and Lambert to attempt to move on. Hoffman continues, chaos follows “I’m still on the agenda, I want to continue on,” Hoffman said following the motion’s failure.
“At the last meeting I attended sometime in March, Jesse (Lambert) gave us public assurance that no more action would be taken on this property until it went through the Court of Appeals,” Hoffman said. “Obviously Jesse changed his mind, because on June 29 - probably the hottest day of the year which happened to be Dylan (Smith’s) birthday, the township went out there and cut their electric and cut their water.”
In an email message dated July 1, 2012, Code Enforcement Officer Roger Welsh addressed the electrical system at the 1031 S. Holly property.
“I believe that the power to the property has been disconnected by Consumers,” Welsh wrote. “It is my understanding that after that time, the service for the electrical was placed in the name of someone other than Holly Township, and we were unable to stop the service, which would have been the easiest and cheapest route.”
In the email, Welsh said the township was not using the electrical service to the buildings and was “a liability.”
“We simply don’t use the buildings and Building Inspector (Dave) Schang has previously expressed reservations about the quality of the electrical system – those reservations were well-founded.”
Welsh said he was instructed by Lambert to accompany a licensed electrician to the S. Holly Road property, and that Winchester had requested that he also change the locks on the home formerly occupied by the Smiths.
“We began with a cursory inspection of the entire system and how it was wired between the buildings and from the service pole,” Welsh wrote. “As we would observe every junction, (the electrician) would try to see if it was live.”
“Everything we examined had electricity running through it,” Welsh said. “The boxes were opened and unlocked, and live wires were strewn on the ground. It was obvious that these were serious and life threatening hazards.”
Hoffman said he had heard the township board say that it is here to protect the assets of the township. “Well, the most valuable asset of this township is the citizens and not once have I heard them say that we’re doing this for the citizens,” Hoffman said. “As a matter of fact, they have said on a few occasions that we’re doing this for the Smiths’ own good.”
With that, Hoffman asked Lambert, Winchester and Freeman to look into the Smith children’s eyes and explain why they were evicted on Feb. 27 in the dead of winter, and on June 29 – perhaps the hottest day of the year, disconnected the power. “You turned their off their water,” Hoffman said. “Tell them you did that for them, and then tell them why young people should respect local government, and more importantly, why don’t you tell them why they should vote for you?”
Chaos erupted among meeting-go...
Arguing among board members and members of the audience ensued as Lambert banged the gavel repeatedly to try to regain control of the meeting.
“Hey…listen up,” Lambert yelled. “I don’t want back and forth, OK?” Lambert said the board would make a decision, and asked everyone to “enjoy the adjournment,” and to take their tempers and attitudes down a notch.
Chaos and discord resulted in the 10 minute intermission, with residents on both sides fervently arguing over the issue.
Public Comment Holly resident Del Shoopman supported the township’s position.
“As we sit here, we’re all taxpayers, except for a few,” Shoopman said. “We’re all mortgage payers, except for a few,” he added. “I would expect those rights as opportunists of being a mortgage payer and a taxpayer and all my rights upheld from this board.”
John La Croix
Holly businessman John LaCroix said he owns three buildings in Holly, but lives in Oak Park.
“From my perspective, this is pure insanity,” LaCroix said, noting that he knows many people who are angry on both sides of this issue in Holly.
“It’s not helping the township at all,” he said. "I’m not saying you’re right, or they’re right, but I’m saying get creative, sit down in a room and figure out how to fix this the amicable way until the court makes a decision so we can stop this because I’m telling you right now, the township has much bigger problems than this.”
Timm Smith used the public comment segment to direct a question toward the township’s attorney. “You said earlier that this possession of the 10 acres – the two 5 acre parcels I have boils down to a question of title,” Smith said. “I’ve been hearing that PHH Mortgage is going to end up ultimately with the title of this because that’s the way federal regulations are set. Is that true?
“I’m not going to get into titles issues, Mr. Smith,” Need replied. “That’s in the court of appeals - we’ll let the Court of Appeals decide that issue.”
Smith said he had learned of a federal regulation that gives non-legally divided property back to the last title holder – PHH Mortgage in his case. “Holly Township is using your tax dollars - $40,000 so far – to give this piece of property back to the bank that wrote this fraudulent mortgage,” he said. “If that doesn’t upset you, they’re not upholding the Land Division Act for that very reason.”
Resident Jim Manning supports the Smiths, and expressed his dismay for members of the board. “This board is trying to inflict pain on this family – we’ve had enough,” he said. “You reap what you sow in life, so good luck looking in the mirror folks, and we will run you right out of office, hopefully into a jail cell.”
“I understand electricity was cut and that’s a shame,” resident Bill Walters said. “But I do also understand that it wasn’t put in by a licensed electrician – it was not in a waterproof box, the connections were out in the open and if anybody was to get hurt, the township was liable and I commend the board for doing what it did.”
Hess Road resident Jerry Newman said it was his feeling that the board had overlooked the Smiths’ health and welfare.
“You can’t just cut off somebody’s electric and leave them out there in them temperatures – it’s just not human,” he said. “I think you ought to get working with the health department or something – there must be some sort of program to help these people out,” he added. “You can’t just leave them sitting out there in the damn heat with no electricity or water. Is this Russia or Holly, Michigan?” Hoffman clarifies why he got involved “To me, this has to do with property rights,” Hoffman said Thursday. “The reason our country is so strong and so great is because we protect the property rights of our citizens.”
Hoffman said it was his opinion that the Holly Township Board of Trustees is not currently providing that service – at least in the case of the Smiths. “When the local officials that are supposed to be protecting citizens’ property rights aren’t doing their jobs, then who’s going to stand up for them?” he asked. “The Smiths contacted me in February just prior to their eviction asking for my help, and when I began looking into it, I discovered that the officials that were elected to uphold the Land Division Act had failed – that’s why I got involved.”
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