Kalamazoo County Property Transfer Under Scrutiny

Sep 19, 2018

On the right, 603 Ada Street in the City of Kalamazoo in September 2018.
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Kalamazoo County’s lawyer is raising questions about a property transfer overseen by its treasurer. According to documents shared with WMUK, the county has asked the Michigan State Police to investigate the transaction. At issue is a house on Kalamazoo’s North Side that now belongs to the nonprofit group Mothers of Hope, which has ties to the chair of the Kalamazoo County Board.

The house at 603 Ada Street came to Kalamazoo County through a tax foreclosure. It wasn’t in the best shape to begin with, and after the previous owner lost a lawsuit to keep the house, Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema says he trashed it.

“The windows are broken, there’s holes in every wall,” she said, leafing through pictures.

Despite the damage, Balkema says her office decided to rehabilitate the house. Records from Balkema’s office show that cost around $45,000. Then, in February, the treasurer transferred the property to Mothers of Hope. The group’s website lists the address as its headquarters.

This is where things get complicated. The quit claim deed filed with the Kalamazoo City Assessor’s office indicates the house was transferred to the group for free. In an email from Kalamazoo County Corporate Counsel Beth White to the county board members, which Commissioner Mike Quinn shared with WMUK, White expresses concern about the transfer. She suggests that it’s illegal for the county to give away property without receiving something in return.

In a later email, White says she’s turned the matter over to the Michigan State Police for investigation. White declined to comment for this story, and the Michigan State Police did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Treasurer Balkema says it’s not true that Mothers of Hope received the house for nothing.

Email from Corporate Counsel White by anlyzstrlz on Scribd

“Actually the consideration was a dollar, but they really gave me $7500 for the home, and when I did the deed I just inadvertently did not put that on there,” she said.

Balkema says the group paid the month after the transfer. It’s a fraction of what it cost the county to repair the house, even after an insurance payment that covered some of the work. But Balkema describes the transfer as a normal part of her office’s efforts to improve Kalamazoo neighborhoods.

“I gave the Edison Neighborhood a house a couple years ago too, to have an affordable housing strategy,” she said, referring to the Edison Neighborhood Association.

The Edison Neighborhood Association’s Executive Director Tammy Taylor says the treasurer’s office did donate a house to the group, which it’s fixing up with plans to sell to encourage homeownership in Edison. Taylor says the county did not renovate the house before giving it to the neighborhood group.

Mothers of Hope, the group that now owns 603 Ada Street, is closely associated with Kalamazoo County Board Chair Stephanie Moore. Tax records show Moore earned about $34,000 consulting for the group in 2016. But Moore says she had nothing to do with the transfer of the house.

"I in no way am a part of that transaction, I in no way am a decision maker or an influencer in that transaction, I in absolutely no way benefit from that transaction as well,” she said.

Moore suggested that County Attorney Beth White, who’s raised questions about the transfer is attacking her personally.

“This isn’t the first time that I’ve been treated differently, disparaged by the corporation counsel of Kalamazoo County. I’m not sure if it’s because of my race or my gender or maybe both, but for me to be inserted into the mix of what the county treasurer did with a local nonprofit definitely makes me feel like there is a witch hunt here,” she said.

According to the Corporate Counsel’s office, Balkema used money from the Tax Reversion Fund to fix up 603 Ada Street. A discussion at a county board meeting Tuesday suggests that some commissioners have questions about the amount of control the treasurer has over that fund. The discussion is likely to continue as the county sets its budget for next year.