Hi, my name is Tina Houghton, and I donâ€™t pay my taxes.
In ousting 16-year Lansing City Council veteran Sandy Allen, newcomer Tina Houghton forgot two things. First, she apparently forgot to pay her $3300 in property taxes and, second, she forgot to tell her constituents.Â Legally,Â she did not have to say anything, even though every candidate for elected office in Lansing must sign an affidavit attesting that they are not in defaultÂ to the City at the time for any financial obligations including property taxes. (See her May 12 affidavit here.) So whatâ€™s the truth?
It depends on who you ask.Â Due to a loophole, Houghton, when she signed that statement, was telling the truth. But was it the whole truth and ethically should she have said something? Â She did not owe the City for property taxes at the time, although she would later fail to pay her summer taxes. But hereâ€™s where it gets real sticky: The key word is City. Houghton also owesÂ 2008Â taxes on her Lansing home, but collection of those taxes had been routinely turned over to Ingham County on March 1, 2009 so technically she owed the County for back taxes and not the City. Talk about splitting hairs.
Does this sound like a Dick Cheney explanation?Â Â Was HoughtonÂ aware of the loophole and prepared for that question on the affidavit?Â Did sheÂ have any qualms answering the way she did?Â Did she ever feel she neededÂ to add any additional information? Did she know the County actually owned her tax debt? Did she think about what Virg Bernero would say since heÂ had hand picked her to run against Allen?Â Did Virg even know she owed back taxes?
A lot must have running through her mind., but the bottom line is Houghton should have been more forthright in her dealings with the voters. They had a right to know about her tax problem. Â And I feel she had the obligation to tell them.
Â Mayor Bernero became complicit in this misdirection by not vetting his hand-chosen candidate more carefully. Â On election eve morning, Mayor Virg Bernero was predicting Houghtonâ€™s runaway victory, bragging to a local radio station host about his support and the work his campaign had done on her behalf. You wonder how fast that support wouldâ€™ve disappeared if it had become known Houghton had not paid her taxes.Â Will he be as supportive of her now?Â
Local political consultant Bernie Porn once told me that he routinely asked potential political candidates about such embarrassing things as tax liability or criminal record. He said after he asked the question he would tell them politely that he would be checking.
How in this day of internet search capability Houghton could get through the entire election cycle without the opposition uncovering this outrage is beyond me. The ad would have been great: â€œHi Iâ€™m Tina Houghton and I donâ€™t pay my property taxes.â€
More importantly, how Houghton could go through the election without fessing up is way beyond me. My high school religion teacher wouldâ€™ve lectured her about sins of commission versus sins of omission and wouldâ€™ve whacked her on the knuckles and told her to go to confession.
When it became public after the election that Houghton owed back taxes on her property she ran to high ground and defended her miscue by wrapping herself in a â€œthose peopleâ€ spin meaning she would represent people like her who are in a difficult economic position. Iâ€™m not against that, but Iâ€™m not sure the voters wouldâ€™ve agreed if they had known about her tax history and her 10 point margin may have disappeared if anyone had done their job. Houghton still must pay her summer 2009 taxes to the City prior to taking office and ultimately she will want to pay her property taxes to the County or she might find out what a Sherriffâ€™s sale is all about. In the meantime, she needs to do some penance and tell her constituents she is sorry.