Will Wayne County's new treasurer fix our screwed up auction practices?


Richard P. Hathaway, Wayne County's chief assistant prosecutor, was selected Friday morning as the new Wayne County Treasurer. He replaces Raymond J. Wojtowicz, who is retiring this month. 

Wojtowicz has held the position for 39 years, making Hathway the county's newest treasurer in nearly four decades. 

Hathaway, who also served as a county judge for over 20 years, was selected unanimously by a three-person panel, which included his co-worker Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Clerk Cathy Garrett, and Chief Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr. His tenure will last through November 2016, when the public will have the opportunity to vote on the position. 

According to the Detroit News, Worthy cited Hathaway's "electability" and "open mind" as reasons why she voted in his favor. 

The latter justification is particularly pertinent considering the issues the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction (which the treasurer is in charge of) has run into in recent years. Over 110,000 houses have been foreclosed over the past decade because of delinquent taxes; however, the process has been criticized for emphasizing liquidation over proper urban planning.

More specifically, as was pointed out in our cover story "Out from Under" many of the houses on the auction block are not just abandoned — as the legislation around the auction originally hinted towards — but rather occupied with families. In our story we shadowed a family as it navigated the anxiety, frustrations, fear and sadness of seeing their home up for the taking. Although Shakiya Robertson, who was followed, was aware her house was up for auction and therefore had the time to save money so she could bid, not all are so lucky. Another massive complaint of the current system is that protocols were never established for informing interested parties about the state of a property. 

Hathaway, who comes from a prominent democrat family in the county, has been touted by the selection board for having new ideas for how to navigate the auction, as well as the empathy to make sure the current displacement patterns don't continue as is. 

“There needed to be change at the top,” Worthy told the Detroit News after the vote. “I was looking for someone I knew could do the job and be compassionate.”

Two candidates up for the position, who we had hedged bets on last month during the interviews, were David J. Szymanski, the recently retired Chief Deputy Treasurer and Jerry Paffendorf, the CEO of Loveland Technologies.