Second Ward resident Robert Gray is suing the city of Lansing to bar City Council Second Ward Councilwoman-elect Tina Houghton from taking office.
The suit claims that Houghton should not have been allowed to run because she owed property taxes to the city when she filed her candidacy and she falsely signed an affidavit attesting that she was not in debt to the city.
The suit was filed Thursday in Ingham County Circuit Court.
City Attorney Brigham Smith after reading the suit said it was without merit.
"I look forward to arguing (the suit) is without merit in court," Smith said.
In an earlier interview, Smith said a person may run for city office while in debt to the city but could not take office.
Houghton’s 2008 taxes were unpaid in May when she signed an affidavit required of candidates. The taxes had been transferred to Ingham County for collection by that time. State law requires delinquent taxes for the previous year to be turned over to the county by March 1.
Smith said that since Houghton’s taxes were owed to the county at the time she signed the affidavit, she was not in debt to the city.
Gray’s attorney, Fred Stackable, argues the opposite.
“A man on the street is not going to understand that fine distinction,” Stackable said.
Gray’s suit also asks for immediate consideration. Stackable says that the suit needs to be heard in court before Houghton would take office in January. He estimated a hearing could come within 15 days.
Also on Thursday, the Council’s Committee of the Whole voted 3-2 against sponsoring a resolution proposed by First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt to conduct a hearing on Houghton’s actions as a member of the Parks Board.
However, Smith said that Houghton resigned from the Parks Board on Thursday, which would render Hewitt's resolution moot.
When the Council approved Houghton’s 2007 nomination by Mayor Virg Bernero, she was overdue on her property taxes, even though the City Charter requires members of boards and commissions not to owe the city.
At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood and Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson voted with Hewitt, while At-Large Ccouncilman Brian Jeffries and President Derrick Quinney opposed it. The Council’s other three members were absent.
Since her election on Nov. 4, Houghton has cleared up her property tax debts, which amount to about $3,300.