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Candidate’s eligibility is questioned

Councilmember Saad Almasmari

 

By Charles Sercombe
This year’s campaign season is just a few weeks old, and already the gloves are off.
City Council candidate Carrie Beth Lasley is asking the city to rule that Councilmember Saad Almasmari is ineligible to be on the primary ballot, and to also pursue criminal charges against him for saying in his filing to be a candidate that he was qualified.
The request was made on April 23 in a letter to the city, which The Review obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.
Lasley said Almasmari filed to be a candidate “knowing he was in debt to public bodies.”
Lasley further said in her letter: “I would like the city to consider a criminal referral to demonstrate its commitment to fair elections and rule of law.”
According to the city charter, there is a section saying that anyone who is a “defaulter” to the city or any other government agency cannot be elected or appointed to office.
It is Section 6-08 of the Hamtramck City Charter, and it says:
“No person shall be elected or appointed to any office who is a defaulter to the City or to any board, or office, or department thereof, or to any school district, county, or other municipal corporation of the State, now or heretofore existing. All votes for the election or appointment of any such defaulter shall be void.”
That charter section has never been enforced, and there has been speculation that it would not hold up in court.
Almasmari is seeking re-election, but has a history of falling behind on his taxes and water bills throughout his term in office for the last four years.
Almasmari is not alone. The Review has previously reported on other city councilmembers who have been delinquent in paying bills owed to the city.
Reached by phone, Councilmember Almasmari, a Yemeni-American, told The Review: “I don’t have to be rich to be a candidate. What’s behind this is racism, and me opposing marijuana.”

City council candidate Carrie Beth Lasley

Lasley, a frequent critic of city officials, has advocated for the city to allow medical marijuana grow facilities to operate here, but only in industrial areas of the city that are away from neighborhoods.

Almasmari and a bare majority of the council have so far blocked that from happening.
Lasley is also no stranger to the issue of an elected official being a “defaulter” to the city.
A few years ago, she submitted documentation to the city showing that, in 2015, Councilmember Anam Miah lost property he owned in Detroit to foreclosure after failing to keep on top of property tax payments.
But, in a review of the matter, then-City Attorney John Clark said that since the issue happened before Miah was elected, he was not technically a defaulter.
The latest issue came to the public’s attention in a proposed resolution for the city council to hire an outside law firm, the Miller Law Firm, to handle the matter.
City Manager Kathy Angerer said, in a background letter to the council, that she is recommending hiring an outside firm “in order to be completely impartial.”
But the resolution also stirred up another controversy. Lasley said there is a conflict in hiring the Miller Law Firm because a member of that firm, Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, was also a former member of City Attorney James Allen’s law firm and had “invested” in it.
Allen said Hollowell left his firm eight years ago.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, a lengthy discussion was held on whether to hire an outside legal firm.
City Attorney Allen said he declined to investigate the matter because it could ultimately affect other candidates in the election, and he wanted to remain impartial on the matter.
A suggestion was made to request the state Attorney General to step in, but Angerer said that office only takes up state law issues. The council eventually voted to approve hiring an outside attorney to look into the complaint, with Councilmember Andrea Karpinski being the sole opposition.
It is expected the investigation will take about two weeks to complete.
Prior to the council meeting, in an exchange on her Facebook messenger service, The Review asked Lasley if she thinks hiring the law firm with Hollowell would affect how her complaint is handled.
Lasley replied:
“I really don’t have a thought one way or the other. It certainly opens the city up to additional litigation on the matter. I do wish the city would take transparency, and the appearance of transparency, seriously. It is perhaps the leading cause of the hostility we see in our government. This shows me there is still no interest in reducing hostilities.”
The Review also asked Lasley whether she was the one who had made the complaint about Almasmari.
She replied: “I don’t think if it was my challenge or another person challenging is relevant to the issue, but I would imagine that would be available to you by FOIA or by asking the City Clerk or Mr. Almasmari.
“I also don’t believe it appropriate for me to discuss any issues that my competitors may be facing at this time.”
Instead, she said, she is “focused on my own campaign, finding fiscal solutions to the (negative) $1.8 million budget being proposed this week and moving Hamtramck forward responsibly.”
City Clerk August Gitschlag confirmed it was Lasley who filed the complaint against Almasmari. The Review subsequently filed a FOIA request.
Almasmari, once again, appears to not be the only candidate who is in default to the city. According to city records, candidate Mohammed Hassan also owes money to the city.
Hassan is a former councilmember who has previously fallen behind on water bills while in office. That was during a time when the city was still under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. That manager declined to take action to remove Hassan from office.

May 17, 2019

Correction … The Review incorrectly reported that city council candidate Carrie Beth Lasley supports allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Hamtramck.

She does not.

However, Lasley does support allowing medical marijuana grow facilities to operate in the city, but only in industrial areas, away from neighborhoods.

The Review apologizes for the error.

The above story has been edited to accurately reflect her viewpoint on the issue.

In a Facebook message to the reporter Lasley had this to say:

“You owe me a retraction. You have intentionally misstated my on-the-record position on marijuana to your own political agenda.”

The Review did not “intentionally” misrepresent her view on the matter, nor is there a “political agenda.”

May 18, 2019

10 Responses to Candidate’s eligibility is questioned

  1. Nasr Hussain

    May 17, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    “…anyone who is a “defaulter” to the city or any other government agency cannot be elected or appointed to office.”

    Technically this does not preclude him from being nominated and his name placed on the ballot.

    As long as he is not a “defaulter” by the time he is elected, then this condition of the charter is fulfilled.

  2. Nasr Hussain

    May 17, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    Referring this matter to an attorney who will charge the city hundreds if not thousands of dollars speak volumes about the comprehension ability of our city officials.

  3. Nasr Hussain

    May 17, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    Full charter text:

    No person shall be elected or appointed to any office who is a defaulter to the City or to any
    board, or office, or department thereof, or to any school district, county, or other municipal
    corporation of the State, now or heretofore existing. All votes for the election or appointment of
    any such defaulter shall be void.

    1- It does not say “can not run or can not be nominated”
    2- It clearly indicates that they can run by stating that the votes such “defaulter” gets will be void, an impossibility if they can’t run for the office in the first place.

    Dr.Lasley should have waited till after the election before filing the complaint, hoping that their default issue wasn’t addressed by then.

  4. Nasr Hussain

    May 18, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    It seems that the drafters intent was for the candidate to clear any outstanding issues before election day.

  5. Fatema Hossain

    May 18, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    I would appreciate it if the Review would publish the exact allegations that Ms. Lasley is making against Councilman Almasmari once it receives a full response from the City of Hamtramck to the FOIA request – if it has not yet received all requested documents already.

    At the City Council meeting she told Council that she had some issues with the affidavit of identity that Councilman Almasmari and this was part of her beef that she made to the city about him.

    At the City Council meeting, the City Clerk mentioned that the factual allegations Ms. Lasley has made have already been investigated by the City of Hamtramck however the city was awaiting a legal opinion before proceeding further.

    One question is what will the City of Hamtramck do if the opinion to be issued by Mr. Hollowell is adverse not only to Mr. Almasmari – but also other candidates such as Mr. Hassan – who could be considered “defaulters” under the City Charter?

  6. csercombe

    May 18, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    Carrie Beth Lasley’s letter to the city:

    Mr. Gitschlag, Mrs. Angerer, Councilman Almasmari and (please forward to) Mr. Allen:

    I have attached screenshots taken after the filing deadline today from your point-to-pay BS+A site showing the water and tax debt attached to Mr. Saad Almasmari’s residential properties. There are similar issues with his commercial properties.

    Per Charter, this is not permitted. The city attorney opinion issued the last time a similar question of eligibility was raised related to tax debt, it was determined that the timing was not permissible to declare a candidate invalid.

    This set of circumstances are different.

    1) Mr. Almasmari is no longer permitted to pay off the debt for some of these because of their age.

    2) Data would indicate that Mr. Almasmari’s properties are in the process of foreclosure — not recently foreclosed. That was what made the claim against Anam invalid. The circumstances here would keep Mr. Almasmari in debt throughout the summer.

    3) More specifically, Mr. Almasmari signed an affadavit indicating he was qualified for office. Clearly he signed that document knowing he was in debt to public bodies. I would like the City to consider a criminal referral to demonstrate its commitment to fair elections and rule of law.

    Please let me know the outcome of this inquiry.

    Thank you,

    Carrie Beth Lasley

  7. Nasr Hussain

    May 18, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Again,it’s very simple, you do not need a legal opinion.It’s common sense.

    If Mr.Almasmari resolves his “default” before election day, he can be elected to office.

    the charter never says that “not being in default” is a condition to run for office.

    Running for office and getting elected are two different things.

  8. Dennis Nowak

    May 18, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I thank Carrie Beth Lasley for her efforts at uncovering these candidate issues.

    One issue I am thinking of is the status of the alleged debt and the nature of it; are these property tax liens, water liens or something else.

    If property taxes are owed and the property is in foreclosure then there would be a redemption period to get the property back by paying off the debt. If the foreclosure is finalized via the expiration of a redemption period, then the foreclosure sale price is applied against the existing debt and the unpaid balance is still owed by the defaulting taxpayer – and if the defaulting taxpayer pays off that debt then he/she is no longer a “defaulter”. To the extent that Mr. Almasmari’s alleged “debts” have somehow been extingusihed or discharged in a foreclosure process, then he no longer would be a “defaulter”. Either Mr. Almasmari owes a debt and can cure the “default” via payment or else it is extinguished and he cannot be in “default”.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely no fan of any elected officeholder who does not pay debts owed to the municipality he/she purports to serve – and past articles in the Hamtramck Review have shown Councilperson Andrea Karpinski in default on her water charges owed the city as well as very questionable issues regarding Mayor Majewski and her Tekla Vintage business. These situations should be a source of embarrassment to the officeholder that allows this to happen and it reflects badly on their fitness for public office.

  9. Roadman

    May 19, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    Katrina Powell as city manager did this earlier – pointing out which City Council candidates were considered “in default” and gave each an opportunity to cure by making payment.

    In this case, it will be interesting to see if Melvin Hollowell issues a legal opinion finding both a default and an opportunity for the candidate to cure via proper payment amount.

  10. Roadman

    May 31, 2019 at 12:06 am

    It looks like “outside counsel” has been reading these comments – and listening to the advice.

    The preliminary indications are that as long as the candidate is not in default when ballots are counted he is in the clear and can be seated if he otherwise qualifies and wins the election. The candidate may cure before he is “elected”.

    We need to now see Butch Holowell’s legal bill for his herculean efforts in coming up with this opinion.

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