County Treasurer Eric Sabree is in the hot seat, but no one’s answering the biggest question about the tax auction
Yesterday the Wayne County Ethics Board held a hearing to decide whether or not County Treasurer Eric Sabree broke ethics rules in his role overseeing tax foreclosure and the annual auction of tax-foreclosed properties.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans made a formal ethics complaint against Sabree in February following a Detroit News investigation into the treasurer allowing family members to purchase properties through the auction. The Ethics Board is examining whether or not Sabree’s family members were treated more favorably than other residents in the tax foreclosure process.
Sabree doesn’t dispute that his wife and son have participated in the auction while he worked in the Treasurer’s office but does disagree that it is a conflict of interest. After more than three hours of discussion (muckraking journo Charlie LeDuff sent a “correspondent” in a chicken suit), board members postponed the conclusion of the hearing and making any decisions regarding Sabree’s behavior until June 19 (9:00 a.m., 7th floor, Guardian Building).
Sabree attended with his lawyer, Phil Thomas, who spent the first hour of the hearing complaining that Evans didn’t show up to the hearing and saying it couldn’t proceed and should be dismissed. It did seem strange that Evans didn’t show up, but at the same time, it’s not a personal issue.
Thomas asked for the complaint to be dismissed — the board did vote on that question and decided to go ahead, but didn’t address what, if any, consequences Sabree might face through the county. (The FBI has also looked at the family land deals.) The bigger question in all of this is, who really does have oversight of the tax auction, if buyers can flout county rules without punishment, and even the treasurer’s seeming violations went unnoticed? The ethics board isn’t looking at that larger question, but it did seem like the elephant in the room. –Sarah Alvarez, Outlier Media
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