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Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Mayor’s ignorance gets the better of him

Mayor Hales has been using his ignorance that the City has a foreclosure manager to insinuate that the guy must be doing a terrible job. After all, the City hasn’t foreclosed on a property since the 1970s!

Let’s give the Mayor his due. The City indeed has a foreclosure manager, and he works in the Auditor’s Office on the first floor of City Hall – right under the Mayor’s nose. While we’re at it, let’s also bust some myths perpetuated by the Mayor and Commissioner Dan Saltzman, both of whom should know better given their multiple terms on City Council. Commissioner Saltzman took to the airwaves to question whether this office was the appropriate place for the foreclosure manager, because auditors are “meek and mild” and “don’t want to rock the boat.” Puh-leez.

Marco Maciel’s primary job as the foreclosure manager is to collect payments from property owners who have delinquent lien accounts. The City’s collections and foreclosure process is outlined in this section of the code. Right there in the first paragraph it says foreclosure is to be used as a last resort. That’s why Marco spends most of his time working with property owners to make payments instead of working up case files for Council to consider for foreclosure.

By the time past-due accounts get to Marco, the Office of Management and Finance has made several attempts to get property owners to pay. Marco’s accounts, therefore, are the hardest on which to collect, but he’s awfully good at it. Since Fiscal Year 2002-2003, payments to the City on delinquent liens have totaled $14 million. Put another way, for every $1 the City pays Marco in salary, he brings in $11.

Once property owners comply with payment requirements, they no longer are subject to foreclosure under the code provisions that govern Marco’s work. There are other sections of the code that allow the City to take action if properties pose a danger to the safety of people who enter them. Marco is not authorized to enforce those, but the Mayor and Commissioner Saltzman oversee bureaus that might be.

The City Council for decades has been content to prioritize revenue from lien payments over foreclosing on properties. History shows that the political will to vote on foreclose and pursue it to the end has been rare. That changed a few months ago when the Mayor’s office brought together the police, code enforcement staff, and my staff to see what could be done about a handful of properties that have been persistent nuisances in neighborhoods and a drain on City services. The coordination of information held by these three entities led to yesterday’s Council vote to foreclose on five vacant properties. From the beginning, my staff and I supported the Mayor’s desire to use all the tools the City has available to address the worst properties. That makes it doubly unnecessary for the Mayor to use Marco as a scapegoat for prior inaction on the City’s use of foreclosure.

While the properties voted on yesterday were the subject of considerable media attention, they are not representative. Many of property owners with delinquent lien accounts live in their homes but lack the means to pay what can amount to tens of thousands of dollars owed to the City. Per the code, it is Marco’s job to arrange payment options they can afford. The daily grind of that important work is what went unnoticed by those content to speak in ignorance.

-- Mary Hull Caballero