July 10, 2013 - Restructuring the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board is going to be a lot tougher than the Oxford Village Council originally thought.
A legal opinion issued by village attorney Bob Davis informed council that it cannot just remove and replace DDA board members at will.
"A DDA board member may be removed by the governing body (village council) for cause after the DDA board member is given notice and an opportunity to be heard," Davis wrote. "However, such removal is subject to review by the Circuit Court of Oakland County."
In light of the DDA's recent financial troubles, council has been discussing possible ways to restructure the organization. There's been talk of potentially replacing most, if not all, of the current board members.
Davis noted that while no exact definition of "cause" for removal is contained within the pertinent law, there are some clear examples such as DDA board members violating their duties or the authority's bylaws and failing to attend board and/or committee meetings.
Davis told this reporter the law is basically saying "you've got to respect these appointments." It does this by essentially insulating DDA board members from the threat of being arbitrarily removed for political or personal reasons.
In this way, the "long-term, independent thinking" of a board is protected, according to Davis.
"I think that's the credible reason why, not only does (removal) have to be for cause, but even if you do it, (DDA board members are) entitled to a hearing and they can go to circuit court," he explained. "How often do you see that?"
Council had also asked Davis if it's allowed to appoint DDA board members to shorter terms of office and the answer is no.
"The DDA board members are appointed for a four-year term," he wrote. "If a DDA board member resigns, their successor shall be appointed to fill out their remaining term."
Davis found it interesting that these appointments last so many years.
"It tells me that they want people to have enough time on these boards to really get the feel for the community," he said. "Four years Ė that's a long appointment . . . It says to me they're looking for some continuity and longevity on these boards."
There's been some talk among council members about changing the DDA board's membership on a temporary basis so that it consists of more public administrators who understand government accounting.
The DDA board currently consists of Ed Hunwick, Tom Jones and Anna Taylor, whose terms are up this year; Jim Bielak and Mickey Tankersley, whose terms end in 2014; and Oxford Township Supervisor William Dunn and Dorothy Johnston, whose terms end in 2015.
Of the aforementioned board members, three own property and run businesses in the DDA district, while two are business owners who lease space.
Davis confirmed that when these board members' terms expire, the village council can simply not reappoint them and no reason is required. "There's no guarantee for reappointment," he said.
Village President Tony Albensi serves on the DDA board as well. He serves as long as he's council president.
There's also a vacancy on the DDA board right now. That seat is supposed to be occupied by a person who actually lives within the DDA district's boundaries.
The DDA's finances are not in good shape these days. The authority ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a deficit of approximately $15,000, resulting in a transfer of funds from the village to cover it because the DDA has zero reserves.
Also, the DDA no longer has a full-time executive director to handle the day-to-day operations. That position, which cost $68,000 annually in wages and benefits, was eliminated by council to save money.
While there on those on council who blame the DDA board for these financial woes, there are those on the DDA board who blame the situation on dwindling revenues and point out that council has always had the final say on its budget.
A combination of declining property values, property owners winning their appeals at the state Tax Tribunal and delinquent/unpaid personal property taxes gave the DDA approximately $48,000 less in tax revenue than originally anticipated for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.