Athens County Auditor Concerned Over Obscured Expedited Seizure Process | New
The Athens County Auditor expressed deep concern over the accelerated foreclosure process at the Athens County Commissioners meeting, telling the body that she believed the Review Board process was wrong. subject to abuse and appeared to be inappropriate.
Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson, who is one of three board members of the Athens County Review Board, an obscure bureaucratic body that usually deals with contestation and l ‘property tax assessment, said the agency could do wrong.
The other two members of the Board of Review are County Commissioner Chris Chmiel and Treasurer Ric Wasserman.
However, in recent years, the BoR has been used in the expedited foreclosure process. According to state law, the council has the power to seize dilapidated, vacant, and abandoned property if taxes are not paid, after the Ohio General Assembly enacted it in 2006. The council may then hand over the property to Athens. County Land Bank, a not-for-profit corporation run by county officials, which can put it up for sale or auction.
The land bank is not required to take the highest bid for a property and can sell to potential buyers based on their intentions for the property, WOUB reported.
Thompson said the process currently used for many expedited foreclosures on overdue tax assets is of great concern to her, as Wasserman is the chairman of both the Board of Revision and the Land Bank, and Chmiel is a member of both bodies. , which, according to her, leads to an appearance of impropriety.
One of her biggest concerns, she said, is that the treasurer is involved every step of the way, from foreclosure to sale.
“I don’t even want it to even look like government officials acting in their capacity are at risk of not passing the odor test,” Thompson said.
Thompson also expressed shame for what she believed was not fair compensation for property seized due to tax delinquency – homeowners should receive any excess from the sale that was more than taxes owed.
She said she would prefer foreclosure cases to go mainly through the courts, which is how they were handled until 2019. She said that would create an appearance of “independence” in the courts. seizures.
“My hope is to resolve some of these issues or find a way to change our process so that there is some independence and not the appearance of impropriety,” said Thompson.
However, Thompson initially voted to start expedited foreclosures in 2019. When asked what had changed between then and now, Thompson said she wanted to be “open to the process” and she believed they were would not be as common as they are.
“It was a very different dynamic,” said Thompson.
Wasserman, who spoke to The Messenger after the meeting, said he was legally mandated to serve on both boards, and that his leadership in both bodies does not mean his office behaves in the opposite way. to ethics.
“As public servants, we are forced to wear different hats and serve on different boards – the assumption is that we all operate ethically,” Wasserman said. “Sometimes you wear more than one hat.”
However, Thompson said too many hats might not fit a single head.
“It’s confusing that the treasurer can set the price when he wears both chef hats,” said Thompson.
Athens County District Attorney Keller Blackburn partially agreed with Thompson, saying Chmiel’s presence on both bodies could be viewed as inappropriate.
“I am of the opinion that two members of the board of revisors should not be on the bank and I have done everything to let you know,” Blackburn told the board of commissioners.
Chmiel said during the meeting that he would step down from the Review Board, which was previously occupied by Commission Chairman Lenny Elaison and fellow Commissioner Charlie Adkins, to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Chmiel told The Athens Messenger he was on the review board because there is a limited pool of county employees to sit on the board as it is mandated. Until Chmiel found a replacement for himself, he said his position on the Review Board was “evolving.”
“Personally, I have been very involved in the land bank all the time – I have no real interest in leaving the board of the land bank,” Chmiel said.
Chmiel pointed out that properties seized by the Board of Review under the expedited process are almost always abandoned and the owner has died.
“The point is, the court process is slower than accelerated foreclosure,” Chmiel said.
Wasserman and others during the meeting suggested that Thompson just doesn’t like the laws around expedited foreclosures and wants them changed.
“The auditor is leading a campaign against fast-track foreclosures within the Board of Revisions and the Land Bank,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman said expedited foreclosure laws have been tested in court, most recently in 2020, Feltner v. Cuyahoga County Board of Revision. In that case, a Cuyahoga County landowner argued that taking a property without compensating the owners for their equity in the property violated state and federal constitutions.
The Ohio Supreme Court found in a narrow decision that the review board acted within the authority granted to it by the Ohio General Assembly from 2006.
Thompson admitted to the Messenger of Athens that she dislikes the laws or court rulings related to expedited foreclosures.
“I’m working to change the law, but I also don’t think these issues have been challenged properly,” Thompson said.
Chmiel, during the meeting, objected to Thompson’s description of the expedited foreclosure process.
“I don’t see those ‘recipes’ you talk about – I see happy neighbors coming and saying ‘thank you for cleaning up this building,’ Chmiel told Thompson.
Wasserman echoed these sentiments.
“These foreclosures are only on vacant and abandoned properties – we are never talking about a foreclosure on a house that someone lives in,” Wasserman said.
However, Thompson said she would continue to believe that a court process would be better than an expedited foreclosure.
“He’s been sitting there so long, can’t we do it right?” Thompson said.
Wasserman justified the use of the expedited foreclosure process, saying it speeds up “the treatment of dilapidated and terrible properties and communities where people are suffering because they live next door.”
He also added that if someone came forward as the owner during the Review Board hearings, at any point in the process, they could have the case referred to the Common Plea Court.
Wasserman even said he believes the expedited foreclosure process through the Board of Reviews is better than the courts because it offers a public hearing rather than a summary judgment.
“It’s hard for me to see why anyone would have a problem with the process, there’s a safety valve,” Wasserman said.
Adkins, who used to sit in Chmiel’s headquarters, agreed with Thompson that the laws surrounding expedited foreclosures and the Board of Review. However, says Adkins, the county must follow the law.
“I just don’t think it’s a good process the way the law is written, but it’s the law, I don’t like other laws that are written but it’s the law and I think we follow the law, ”Adkins mentioned.
He also said that if Chmiel’s presence on the Review Board causes an appearance of impropriety, then Wasserman’s leadership on both boards should be viewed in a similar light.
“If there is a conflict with Commissioner Chmiel sitting on that council, then there is a bigger conflict with the treasurer sitting on that council,” Adkins said. “It doesn’t seem fair that this is more of a problem with Commissioner Chmiel than with the Treasurer.