Hearing date

By Kyle Melinn

A hearing regarding Councilwomanelect Tina Houghton is set

The Tina Houghton saga is likely to end next week, says the attorney trying to block her from taking office.

The lawyer, Fred Stackable, said that he believes Ingham Circuit Judge William Collette will rule yes or no on Dec. 30 on whether Houghton can take office as Lansing’s Second Ward Councilwoman. Stackable said the judge may decide to hold another hearing on the matter if it’s not resolved then, but believes that it will probably end there.

“This is gong to be it, one way or the other,” Stackable said of the 10 a.m. hearing in the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason. “It’s a black and white issue.”

Second Ward resident Robert Gray brought the suit against the city of Lansing on Dec. 3. The suit alleges that City Clerk Chris Swope failed to stop Houghton from being on the primary election ballot after she signed an affidavit while registering to be a candidate that said she did not owe any debts to the city. When Houghton signed the affidavit in May, she had not paid her 2008 property taxes. The county had taken over the tax debt from the city on March 31. Houghton was also late in paying her 2009 taxes, which were due Aug. 31. She paid both tax bills after the Nov. 4 general election following a story in City Pulse that reported they were past due.

As with other delinquent taxes, the county paid the city for them. Thus, one of the issues is whether Houghton violated the Charter since technically she no longer owed the city for her 2008 taxes and was not yet late on her 2009 taxes.

As a basis of the suit, Stackable has submitted the affidavit Houghton signed and a copy of the City Charter section that states no person is eligible to hold office if he or she owes the city money. Stackable has also submitted a 1993 federal court decision called Corrigan v. Newaygo, which kept several candidates for office in that Michigan city off the ballot because they owed property taxes and utility bills. Newaygo’s charter has a provision that states a person in debt to the city cannot run for office.

Stackable also provided a transcript of a 1999 hearing in Lansing where Belinda Fitzpatrick sued for not being allowed to be on the ballot by the city clerk at that time because she owed property taxes. Like Houghton, Fitzpatrick’s taxes at that time had been passed over to the county.

Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen, whom Houghton beat, said she will attend the hearing.

“I think it’ll be interesting to see how the judge rules on it,” Allen said.

Lansing City Attorney Brigham Smith has said that the City Charter language does not speak to a candidate running for office while in debt to the city — it just says that no one can hold office while in debt. Smith did not return a call seeking comment on whether he would respond to Gray’s suit before the hearing. As of Monday, Stackable said that he had not yet received a response to the suit from the city.

Houghton, who did not return a call seeking comment, is set to be sworn in Jan. 5. If Collette rules in Gray’s favor and there is a vacancy, the Council would have to appoint a new member who would serve until January following the Nov. 2, 2010, general election, at which the Council seat would be on the ballot for the remaining three years.

Allen said that she has considered the possibility of retaking her position as a Council member if it is ruled that Houghton can’t take office.

“Frankly I’m not sure if I’d make an attempt to be appointed or not. I’m not sure yet,” she said.