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Detroit Land Bank says report critical of its practices lacks "credibility"

Apr 5, 2017

The agency in charge of most of Detroit’s demolition program is hitting back at a recent city auditor general’s report.

That report, issued late last month, accused the Detroit Land Bank Authority of poor management and dubious practices.

The DLBA has run most of Detroit’s aggressive anti-blight program under Mayor Mike Duggan, helping demolish almost 11,000 structures during his term.

It’s come under some hard scrutiny from state and federal agencies, and briefly lost federal funds last year. Those were restored after the Land Bank agreed to change some practices, and accept more oversight.

And late last month, Detroit’s Auditor General Mark Lockridge joined in, questioning a number of recent moves.

But in a 16-page letter to Lockridge, DLBA board chair Erica Ward Gerson said she’s “deeply disappointed…in the manner in which your office conducted this investigation, and the manner in which the Report was released.”

Gerson particularly blasted the city auditor general for failing to notify the DLBA before the report’s release, and “did not interview a single DLBA employee, attorney, or Board member.” She says a “failure to comply” with general accounting standards led to a number of errors, “severely undermining its accuracy, its conclusions, and ultimately its credibility.”

Gerson said talking with the DLBA would have cleared up some of Lockridge’s concerns, such as why 19 properties were left half-demolished. In that case, “work was stopped because Rickman moved forward on demolition without a signed contract, without a notice to proceed, and without filing a Notice of Intent,” Gerson wrote. “DLBA had no choice but to stop work on the 19 properties.”

That also explains why the DLBA is only bidding out half the demolition process on those properties, Gerson said.

In general, Gerson said Lockridge’s concerns about rapidly changing processes at the Land Bank are completely misplaced. “DLBA’s ability to rapidly respond to external events is indicative of its organizational strength,” she wrote.

The initial report was done for the Detroit City Council, which is expected to take its findings next week. Lockridge and DLBA officials have been asked to come before a Council committee.