Oakland County will investigate Treasurer over auction profits as primaries loom.
The Oakland County Board of Commissioners will appoint a committee to investigate Treasurer Andy Meisner after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Michigan counties can no longer keep profits from foreclosure auctions, according to a July 17 statement.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed earlier this year against Oakland County by 85-year-old Southfield resident Uri Rafaeli. Rafaeli accidentally underpaid property taxes on a home owned by his business by $8.41 in 2014, causing the county to foreclose on the home. When the property sold in an auction for $24,500, the county kept the profits.
Because state law dictates that counties should keep these profits, the matter now goes on to the state legislature, which will replace the current law with a new one.
Foreclosures in Michigan are managed by county treasurers. In Oakland County, that role belongs to Meisner. He is currently running a primary campaign for Oakland County Executive against David Coulter, who currently holds the position.
Oakland County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Woodward (D-Royal Oak) and Republican Caucus Chairman Michael Gingell (R-Lake Orion) put out a statement against Meisner following the ruling last Friday.
“The Oakland County Board of Commissioners is gravely concerned that County Treasurer Andy Meisner violated the constitutional rights of an elderly homeowner, and other residents, as determined by the unanimous Michigan Supreme Court today,” the statement reads. “This carelessness and ineptitude will likely cost Oakland County taxpayers more than $34 million. In light of this ruling, the Board will have to evaluate what steps need to be taken to protect taxpayers and ensure the treasurer does not make this mistake again.”
But Meisner said he’s just been doing his job. State law has dictated since 2002 that counties should keep foreclosure profits, he said, and treasurers currently have no discretion under state law to prevent a foreclosure for small unpaid property tax balances. Meisner is currently drafting a bill with State Representative Robert Wittenberg that would give treasurers the ability to pull a property from foreclosure if it has a small balance.
“I’ve been very proactive as a treasurer to try to improve this law while at the same time, as the county treasurer and somebody that swore an oath to administer the law and to be a fiduciary for the county, I’m obligated to take the county’s position under the law,” Meisner told the Jewish News.
Furthermore, Meisner doesn’t foresee this ruling costing Oakland County much money, let alone the $34 million mentioned in the Board of Commissioners’ statement. He said the money that’s come into the county from the sale of tax-foreclosed properties has gone into a restricted account in the general fund. About 90 percent of the money collected as a result of this policy is still there, according to Meisner.
“The short version is there’s not a major fiscal impact on the county,” he said. “It’s money that’s been largely set aside. And as soon as we figure out the new law, I am making job #1 getting that money back to the previous owners in accordance with the law that the legislature adopts.”
Meisner, who has held the role of treasurer since 2008, said he ran for the office because of his family’s own experience with financial vulnerability in Oakland County during his childhood.
“That’s not only an element of my life’s experience but it certainly is an element of my faith as a practicing Jew,” he said.
He hasn’t received any details on the Board of Commissioners’ investigation into his practices yet. In the meantime, he said he plans to stay compassionate and flexible.
“I’m looking forward to… a new law that incorporates the lawsuit and its finding of the Michigan Supreme Court and to do it in a way that’s fair to property owners, to the local cities, villages, and towns in the county and the state,” Meisner said.
Correction: The headline for this article previously read that the court ruled against Meisner himself. The lawsuit was filed against Oakland County, not its treasurer. The headline has been updated to reflect that.