DDA asks council to release funds needed to defend against lawsuit

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – The Downtown Development Authority has asked the City Council for help in funding its fight against a lawsuit resulting from a power struggle between a previous incarnation of the authority and a previous administration.

Law firm Butzel Long of Detroit is seeking $131,000 from the DDA for representing it in a 2004 lawsuit against the city. Authority members at the time were seeking greater control over the body’s revenue, which is collected through tax-increment financing.

The DDA had sued the city as it sought to retain the services of planning consultants RoberThomas after a majority of the council had expressed dissatisfaction with the firm’s work and wanted to cut ties. Butzel Long was hired by the authority at the time for that lawsuit.

Members of that DDA believed that Butzel Long had taken the suit as a test case and was working for free, and that firm officials were hoping to use the experience as a basis for representing other downtown development authorities.

In a bit of a twist, the council, which still has control over DDA funds, voted Monday to approve the release of $10,000 to the authority to hire Miller Canfield, also of Detroit, to represent the current DDA in the Butzel lawsuit. Miller Canfield represented the city in the 2004 lawsuit by the DDA and was recommended for the current case by City Attorney William Look.

In another twist, in 2004, Councilman Leonard Sabuda was mayor, a position that entails concurrent membership on the DDA board. He had disagreed with that council majority and wanted to retain the firm, and now is in a position to vote on the release of the funds that the previous DDA had sought to control.

It’s a point that was not lost on local activist Richard Miller, who told the council Monday that Sabuda should not have voted to release the funds to the current DDA to fight the Butzel Long lawsuit.

“Leonard Sabuda was mayor then, and as mayor had an automatic seat on and vote in the DDA,” Miller said.

Miller’s issue is that Sabuda did not like that council’s interference and supported authority members suing the city.

“A mayor sitting on the DDA has much influence, and Leonard only used his to support the members efforts. He was banned from deliberations by his City Council because he was party to the suit, so he should not be involved in this litigation either.

“He voted on the (2004) resolution to explore the option of suing the city with the DDA, using Butzel Long. Never did (Sabuda) try to dissuade the DDA from suing the city.”

In rebuttal, Sabuda said Monday that he supported the previous DDA in everything when he was on its board as mayor.

“I hate the way he (Miller) points his finger and paints these pictures,” Sabuda said. “He gives a part of the information, but he never gives the complete story where people can get the other side of the coin.”