News Hits can’t say for certain why John Nelson was AWOL when scheduled to appear before the Detroit City Council last week. But we suspect that it has something to do with the ongoing battle between the mayor’s office and council over the Housing Commission, which Nelson heads.

Last year, when Dennis Archer was still mayor, he declared the Housing Commission is an independent entity and its 400 or so workers are at-will employees. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 25, which represents some of the workers, sued the city alleging that Archer acted illegally; the council later joined the lawsuit.

The mayor wanted to make the department a separate body so that the Housing Commission could hire people directly rather than go through a union process, says Jimmy A. Hearns, area staff representative for Council 25.

Well, when the Kwamster gave his budget address in April, he also declared that the Housing Commission is an “independent agency” — removing it from the budget process involving council.

But one would have thought that Nelson might show for the budget hearing since Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert L. Ziolkowski ruled — after Kilpatrick’s budget address — that the commission is part of city government and so are its employees.

Nelson’s being missing in action didn’t stop the council members from carrying out their duties. Their attorney advised them to come up with a budget plan for the department.

“I told council they have responsibility to keep those people in the budget and will have to rely on last year’s figures,” says attorney Robert Palmer, who represents council.

Palmer also intends to file an emergency motion, demanding that the mayor’s office turn over budget information on the commission; the motion may be heard by Ziolkowski on Friday, May 10.

Kilpatrick’s office wasn’t sure why Nelson didn’t show, but spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says that another budget hearing may be scheduled this week, which Nelson is expected to attend. Barring some unforeseeable snafu, we’ll keep you posted.

Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at amullen@metrotimes.com

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