Kwame’s fiefdom 

"We’re well on our way to setting up a dictatorship," warns Maryann Mahaffey, president of the Detroit City Council. The most recent source of her concern about Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s quest for power is legislation — passed by the state House and working its way through the Senate — that would establish a separate city entity to deal with 40,000 city-owned properties.

The proposed Detroit Land Bank Authority would get $10 million in state seed money so it can take over abandoned real estate controlled by the city. It could buy and sell property as it sees fit. Money generated would be used to improve other properties to encourage sales, says Dennis Denno, spokesman for House Democrats. The authority could make these decisions without hearings, wouldn’t be bound by local ordinances and would control the money generated through sales. Four members of the five-person board would be appointed by the mayor; the fifth would be named by the governor. "All of this freezes out the people from their right to know and their right to public hearings," says Mahaffey,

The bill is the result of negotiations between Kilpatrick, House minority leader Buzz Thomas, D-Detroit, and Gov. John Engler. Kilpatrick’s spokespeople did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Denno says the land bank is a good idea. "The residents of the City of Detroit deserve better," Denno says. "Our goal is to clean up dangerous abandoned property and to put more money on the tax rolls and also, obviously, to clean up our neighborhoods and our downtown area."

Denno says that Thomas met with Mahaffey and reported that he would offer an amendment requiring the authority to comply with local ordinances, such as zoning, and to give City Council more input.

Like Mahaffey, officials from nonprofit organizations who’ve worked for years to obtain properties and deliver them to needy families are concerned; they plan to testify before the Senate this week. In the past, the city would not sell properties below market value to nonprofits, which was a major problem, says Marilyn Mullane, director of Michigan Legal Services. But the county and state have done so. Question marks loom. "How does this get policed and who decides who gets what properties?" Mullane asks. Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail lcollins@metrotimes.com

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