On December 29th, the Detroit Free Press rushed to publish 'What now for Heidelberg, as it battles fires and tax problems?'
Unfortunately, they left out some important information. Fast forward to March, and local reporters still don't have all the facts. Attorney Dan Hoops seeks to set the story straight in this letter to the Editor of Freep, and all those seeking both sides to this story.
LAW OFFICES OF DANIEL S. HOOPS
ATTORNEY & COUNSELOR
7457 Franklin Road, Suite 200
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48301
Of counsel: Admitted: Michigan and Florida
Dear Sir or Madam:
I acted as the Heidelberg Project’s general counsel from 2001-2012. In addition, I served on the Heidelberg Project’s Board of Directors from 2001-2010 and was its President from 2007-2010.
The 12/29/2013 Detroit Free Press Story, What now for Heidelberg Project, as it battles arsons and tax problems?, was a sensational story that missed the mark. Had the writers simply attempted to pull any of the Heidelberg Project’s eight cases before the Michigan Tax Tribunal (the “MTT”) or reviewed the global settlement order between the Heidelberg Project and the City of Detroit, an accurate depiction of the Heidelberg Project’s tax status would have been published this Sunday. Unfortunately the reporters failed to take any such due diligence.
In addition to their failure to include any facts contained in the Heidelberg Project’s MTT case file, nowhere in the Free Press’s story did it mention the possibility that the Heidelberg Project’s “tax problems” could have been the result of the City Assessor’s incompetence. Notably, in February 2013, the rival Detroit News ran several comprehensive stories about the similar problems other Detroiters have had over the years with the City Assessor’s office.
The Heidelberg Project’s “tax problems” began in 2004 when the Assessor’s staff, apparently, “lost” its application for an exemption from real property tax as a tax-exempt organization. From 2004-2007, the Assessor’s Office sent tax bills to the wrong addresses for the Heidelberg Project’s properties necessitating several emergency appearances before the Wayne County Circuit Court to halt forfeitures of its properties. After being given the run-around for years trying to ascertain the Heidelberg Project’s exempt status, the City ultimately sought forfeiture of eight parcels in 2007. Those forfeitures were contested at the MTT and were ultimately determined to be tax exempt (i.e. not subject to the City’s real estate tax).
What is especially galling about the Free Press story is the fact that the property forfeitures referenced in the story were filed while the MTT petitions were still pending or were sent in error as a result of the MTT settlement order in 2011. That, alone, should have raised suspicion in the reporters’ eyes that something was not right. The Detroit Assessor’s office has been called to the carpet for its less-than-stellar performance over the years, surely this would have prompted one of the two writers to dig a little further than simply taking the Assessor at its word when they submitted their story to their editor.
I am truly disappointed that this newspaper would not have done something as simple as looking up a case file at the MTT. My co-counsel and I have reams of files documenting the Heidelberg Project’s “tax problems,” everything from correspondence between Detroit’s elected officials, city attorneys, the assessor, the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office and numerous filings with the Wayne County Circuit Court and MTT. No one thought to conduct a larger investigation through the public records or make a FOIA request on the Detroit Assessor’s office?
The Detroit Free Press should be ashamed of the lack of effort by its staff; it owes all of its readers balanced and accuracy in its stories. Perhaps this letter to the editor will prompt a follow-up story that accurately depicts the “tax problems” (or “tax hell”) the Heidelberg and so many others have had to live through for decades because of the Assessor’s incompetence.
Daniel S. Hoops
The Heidelberg Project