Thomas called out on residency at council meeting

By J. Patrick Pepper
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — City attorneys are reviewing whether information raising questions about Councilman Douglas Thomas’s residency put him in violation of the city charter.

Nancy Siwik, who finished two spots out of the top 14 in the August council primary, brought forth documents at the Oct. 5 council meeting that she said indicate that Thomas’ legal residency is in Florida.

She believes the information means that Thomas is in violation of the charter, which requires council members to be a city resident in order to be eligible for office. Thomas denied the allegation.

Siwik handed out documents showing that Thomas and his wife share a condominium in Bonita Springs, Fla., that receives a homestead property tax exemption.

State laws in Michigan and Florida hold that a married couple can receive only one homestead exemption unless the couple is legally separated, which Thomas and his wife are not.

The information brings to a crescendo the long-whispered rumors that Thomas has been residing in Florida for some time.

He previously has acknowledged spending significant time in the Sunshine State in recent years. His wife accepted a job there four years ago and has lived there full time since, he said, but he denies that he has moved there himself.

Thomas said Siwik’s revelation was a surprise to him, because he has a homesteaded residence in Dearborn. The discrepancy she pointed to is a matter of not fully understanding the homestead laws, he said.

“(My wife) shouldn’t have been granted the exemption in the first place, but the people that we talked to in Lee County said it was fine to apply,” Thomas said. “We got some bad information.”

Thomas added that he called Lee County officials the day after the council meeting to have the exemption removed.

He said the incident is a sign of political posturing as the November council elections approach. He believes Siwik’s revelation came at the behest of Mayor John O’Reilly, Jr., with whom he has frequently butted heads in the past.

“(O’Reilly) wants to completely control the council. He is starting to fit into the Hubbard-Guido role of complete control” of the council, Thomas said.

O’Reilly and Siwik, who is O’Reilly’s campaign treasurer, adamantly deny the conspiracy allegations.

“This is Doug’s modus operandi: point the finger at someone else, accuse somebody, make up stories, because then it deflects from the real issue,” O’Reilly said. “Nancy is her own person, and she made this decision on her own.”

Siwik echoed the mayor’s comments, saying Thomas’s residency situation has bothered her for a while.

“When I lost the primary, I made a decision I was going to do something about it,” she said. “I thought maybe (Thomas) wouldn’t place well (in the election), but he did, and I thought this was the right thing to do.”

Siwik acknowledged approaching O’Reilly about the situation, but said it was only to see if he could do something about it. She said O’Reilly told her the only way any action could be taken was to approach the council, because it is a self-governing body. But in speaking with five of the six other council members, Siwik said she was met with indifference.

“I spoke with a couple of council people, and I was given all different answers from ‘He’s a friend, I can’t do that’ to ‘I don’t think he’s going to win anyway, what difference does it make?’ One of the councilmen told me it’s just too hard to confront somebody when you have to work with them,” Siwik said.

She declined to attribute the comments to specific council members.

The situation currently is under review by city attorneys, who will draft a memo to the council outlining the charter provision and how it relates to Thomas.

If the memo indicates a charter violation on Thomas’s part, fellow members can call for a removal hearing, at which Thomas can refute the evidence against him.

Legal department head Debra Walling didn’t give a timeline for when the research would be complete, but said she understands that it is of a “pressing nature.”