Albany, Dougherty Officials Consider Land Bank

Land Bank Update
April 15, 2017

City, county votes imminent on creation of joint land bank authority

ALBANY — The concept of the land bank is nothing new. The first in the country was created in St. Louis in 1973, and there followed land banks in Cleveland in 1976 and Louisville, Ky., in 1989.

The relative success of those endeavors, and the desire to battle blight in the suddenly thriving Atlanta metropolis in the late 1980s, was instrumental in passage of the Georgia Land Bank Act of 1990. Shortly after that legislation made its way through the state Legislature, the city of Atlanta created the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority.

And while the road from creation to utilization was a long and rocky one in the state’s capital city, the eventual success of that initial land bank became a model that was emulated in Columbus/Muscogee County in 1992, Macon/Bibb County (1996), Savannah/Chatham County (1997), Augusta/Richmond County (1998), and Valdosta/Lowndes County (1999).

By the time the General Assembly updated the Land Bank Act in 2012, legislation creating land bank authorities had been passed in Athens/Clarke County, Statesboro/Bullock County, Rome/Floyd County, LaGrange/Troup County, DeKalb County and, closer to home, Thomasville/Thomas County.

The concept of the land bank is a relatively simple one, as explained by Albany-Dougherty County Planning Services Director Paul Forgey: “A land bank allows for the acquisition of underutilized, blighted or tax delinquent properties to return them to productivity.”

Forgey and Planning and Code Program Specialist Angel Gray, at the urging of such long-time advocates as District 3 Dougherty County Commissioner Clinton Johnson and Ward I Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard, gave both governing bodies an elementary tutorial on land banks at meetings of both boards Monday and Tuesday.

And while self-proclaimed community activist William Wright offered confusing opposition to the concept at the City Commission meeting — “The very poor will be the ones who are damaged without due process” — there appeared to be little standing in the way of expected passage of a joint city/county resolution establishing a land bank authority by the County Commission on Monday and the City Commission at its April 25 meeting.

“I really haven’t gotten a lot of feedback from the city, and while I would never speak for them, judging from their initial reaction (to the proposal), it seemed very positive,” Forgey said Thursday. “I think the approach by both governing boards is that this concept is something that’s been a long time coming.

“I have heard from some of the county folks — Commissioner Johnson and (County Attorney) Spencer Lee have been very supportive of what we discussed. I think this is something that’s been on the county’s radar for some time now.”

Indeed, Johnson said Thursday he’s been pushing for development of a land bank since he was first elected to the County Commission five years ago. He encountered the concept while serving on a statewide GICH (Georgia Investment Community Housing) committee, and he says the time has come for the city and county to take action.

“I think, honestly — and to the detriment of our community — too many surrounding communities have benefited from our blight problems,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, even if a new business moved into our community with 500 new jobs tomorrow, we’d still have blight issues. A land bank offers us a way to transfer blighted properties in our community back onto the tax rolls, while at the same time allowing us to provide more safe, affordable and decent housing opportunities for our citizens.

“I see a land bank as another potentially effective development tool in our tool box.”

Gray told the two commissions that establishing a land bank would serve a number of positive purposes in the community.

“If done right, (a land bank) has the potential to create jobs, enhance property value, stabilize neighborhoods, reduce crime, save on government costs and return blighted properties to the tax base,” she said.

Howard, a staunch advocate of the city’s long, and often painfully bogged-down, fight against blight, said development of a land bank offers an opportunity to address that issue. At the very least, he said Friday, it’s a “step in the right direction.”

“I look around at all of the blight on the east side of town, and I sometimes think it will take an act of God to get us back where we need to be,” Howard said. “But a land bank does give us an opportunity to get these blighted properties, many of which are in areas that are not conducive to development, back into a condition where they might be desirable for other property owners or developers.

“At the very least, it will give us an opportunity to address these absentee slumlords who have done such damage to our community. A land bank would not be a panacea, wouldn’t get rid of all of our dilapidated structures and eyesores. But it would give us the opportunity to start the process.”

Forgey, noting that, by Georgia law, a land bank authority has no eminent domain powers, said the idea behind a land bank is to take control — through gifting, purchases or other means — of properties that have been abandoned by their owners and offer them for sale as potential pieces of redevelopment or neighborhood improvement programs.

“I heard (Wright) mention that a land bank would ‘take property from poor people who were not able to pay their taxes,’ but there’s no way for that to happen,” the planning director said. “A land bank has no eminent domain authority, so there’s no way one could ‘take’ land from anyone. It’s just not going to happen.

“For a land bank to acquire a property, it has to be completely abandoned. We wouldn’t even attempt to purchase a property until it’s been through a tax sale (on the courthouse steps) and been rejected. So we wouldn’t get involved with a property until its owner and the market have turned their backs on the property.”

Lee said that land banks could be used to take over abandoned properties whose taxes “roll over year after year” without any interest shown by the owner of record.

“After seven years, the taxes (from eight years previous) start dropping off the books and are replaced by the new year’s taxes,” Lee said. “These are properties — and, yes, most of them are blighted, with upkeep falling on the city and county — that you’ll never recoup taxes on (other than through such action as that taken by a land bank).”

Perhaps with an eye on the joint city/county Planning Commission, which has drawn fire in recent days for its failure to attract a quorum of its appointed members to hear a rezoning request that impacted key area employer Procter & Gamble, Forgey suggested that the board of directors required to convene on behalf of a land bank authority be made up of individuals who understand such issues as real estate and economic development.

“Our recommendation is that a seven-member board be appointed, with three members appointed by the county and four by the city,” the Planning director said. “But because this board should be made up of individuals who understand the complicated issues associated with property and property acquisition, we suggest that the managers of the city and county recommend board appointments and have the commissions vote on his or her recommendations.”

Johnson, too, said a proposed authority board must include “the right people.”

“That board has to be made up of developers, Realtors, home builders, people who know how to best utilize available funding,” the county commissioner said. “This can’t be one of those situations where the appointments are made based on who knows who. We have to have a board whose members understand these complex issues.”

Still, Howard warned, city and county leaders must stay abreast of all land bank activity.

“We have to, as elected officials, have the fortitude to be visionaries,” the Ward I commissioner said. “No one will forget that the city made a bad calculation when it accepted the donated radiator shop land (just east of the Flint River). It turned out to be contaminated and cost us a whole lot of money to clean up.

“But in a city in which 14 percent of the houses are either vacant or blighted, we have to take action. I really think the time has come for us to make this happen.”

Source: Albany Herald

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CHEIF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Human Resources

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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VP, Finance and Vendor Management

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the vice president of finance and vendor management for Safeguard. Joe leads the accounting and information security departments, and is a key leader in the management of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets. He also leads the service supply chain including vendor sourcing, field quality control, and delivery, in addition to the quality assurance function for the company.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Human Capital

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of human capital for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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Director, Business Development & Marketing

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the director of business development and marketing for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.