By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — An investigation into the residency of City Councilman Douglas Thomas has found that he does maintain a residence in town despite allegations that he is a Florida resident.
The investigation was brought on when failed council candidate Nancy Siwik brought forth information at an Oct. 5 council meeting that Thomas’ wife, Jane Valentine, has a house in Bonita Spring, Fla., that receives a homestead property tax exemption.
Such exemptions are granted to individuals or married couples on their primary residence, or place they “plan to return to,” and are limited to one.
Dearborn elected officials are required to reside in the city, which is what Siwik said led her to question whether Thomas was eligible for office. And for at least two years, Thomas has acknowledged spending significant time in Florida to visit his wife.
But he has maintained that he resides at 511 Elmwood, another residence in Valentine’s name that receives a homestead exemption. The homestead discrepancy was corrected, Thomas says, when Siwik brought it to his attention. The Florida house no longer receives a homestead exemption, and Valentine will be responsible for retroactive tax payments on it, Thomas said.
He said that the dually homesteaded houses were a matter of bad advice from local officials in Florida, who encouraged Valentine to apply for one.
City Attorney Debra Walling and City Clerk Kathleen Buda led the investigation into Thomas’s residency. The pair went to the Elmwood address, where they found evidence that Thomas had been living there.
The Dearborn house, which currently is for sale, is sparsely furnished. But Thomas said the lack of furniture is because his wife needed it for her Florida house, and because he had no use for it. Thomas keeps most of his belongings in a self-contained “in-laws quarter” in the rear of the house.
He said he might have a buyer for the house, but that it doesn’t mean he is leaving the city. Thomas already has discussed renting a room with the prospective buyer, and previously has said he could always stay at his daughter’s house in Dearborn.