By Charles Sercombe
If the state approves, Hamtramck will have a new city manager.
And he is no stranger to Hamtramck. At a special meeting held on Wednesday, a bare majority of the city council voted to hire Kyle Tertzag to be the interim city manager.
He will replace City Manager Katrina Powell when her contract expires after June 30.
But his hiring first has to be approved by the state Receivership Transition Advisory Board, which could decide on the matter at its next meeting on June 27. The board has final approval of all city contracts and expenses.
The RTAB has been in place for over two years since the city is still considered under a financial emergency.
The hiring is the result of several prolonged and heated disputes among city councilmembers over which direction to go with Powell.
Councilmembers Andrea Karpinski and Ian Perrotta have been in the minority in wanting to extend Powell’s contract.
Councilmembers Anam Miah, Abu Musa, Saad Almasmari and Mohammed Hassan have refused to keep Powell on and were behind the hiring of Tertzag. They have bristled over Powell’s management style, and have accused her of leaving the council out of decision making.
Powell has insisted she has followed the rules set down by the final orders of the emergency manager and the role restrictions of the city manager and council the city charter lays down.
Tertzag was an acting city manager for Hamtramck in 2012 and lasted over a year until the state declared a financial emergency and appointed an emergency manager.
Prior to Tertzag being here, the city council at that time had asked the state to declare a financial emergency in the city. Tertzag played no role in that decision.
Once Emergency Manager Cathy Square was on board, she fired Tertzag. She kept the position of city manager vacant until she was near the end of her 18-month term here. At the time Square said it was “redundant” to have a city manager on hand.
Tertzag is a former Allen Park councilmember and city administrator for Woodhaven.
His experiences in both cities were clouded in controversy.
In Allen Park, he and all of the councilmembers unanimously approved a $31 million development deal for a film studio without seeking voter approval. That deal flopped, leaving taxpayers on the hook and sent the city into a financial crisis that led to an emergency manager taking over.
But Tertzag has pointed out in the past that the deal did not require or even meet the guidelines for voter approval, and that the city administrator, economic development department and the state were behind it.
In Woodhaven, he was let go suddenly under what some said were mysterious circumstances. Both the city and Tertzag entered into an agreement not to disclose the details of his leaving.
Tertzag says it’s common for non-disclosures to be agreed on.
“City managers come and go,” he told The Review. “We decided to handle it like adults.”
In contrast, Hamtramck’s current city manager, Katrina Powell, was also let go by two previous communities after serving about two years in each.
Hamtramck city councils have fired two previous city managers, and then went through several for very short terms – sometimes lasting just a few weeks — before hiring Tertzag back in 2012.
Tertzag’s history was brought to the attention of the city council at Tuesday’s special meeting by several residents.
No one asked him to explain those situations.
Others complained the process of hiring Tertzag was cloaked in secrecy by the bare majority of councilmembers and had the effect of taking the city backwards.
“A majority of you is making our city disgusting,” said Rachel Srodek, sister of Councilmember Andrea Karpinski. “You make our city look like poop.”
While in Hamtramck, Tertzag’s tenure went relatively smoothly, considering the city went through several city managers prior to his arrival.
Since his leaving Tertzag was asked by Mayor Karen Majewski if he was still in municipal administration. Tertzag said he has been acting as a consultant and doing polling work for his own company, Strategic Solutions.
On his Facebook page he also promotes himself as DJ Maverick.
Tertzag said he only wanted to be interim city manager here until the end of next January.
“I’m fine in the public sector,” Tertzag said.
He declined to talk about any discussions with city or elected officials that led to his hiring, saying those were “private.”
That response elicited a loud groan from the packed city council chambers.
But he did say he has kept up with Hamtramck’s situation and only recently reached out to Councilmember Miah about the position of interim city manager.
There had been accusations that the four councilmembers who brought Tertzag forth of acting secretly in collusion and in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The four called for the special meeting at Tuesday’s regular meeting. It was at that meeting Miah revealed the purpose for the special meeting was to hire Tertzag.
Much shouting among the council and audience members erupted after that announcement.
Councilmember Ian Perrotta pointed out that the four did not offer the exact wording of the resolution hiring Tertzag at Tuesday’s meeting. He said Miah provided the resolution after he asked for it via email to all councilmembers.
In an effort to boost Tertzag’s hiring – and perhaps embarrass the mayor — Councilmember Miah read a letter by Majewski praising his work as city manager in Hamtramck, saying it brought “stability” to the city.
The letter was from 2013, and it complimented Tertzag for his “even-handed approach” which she said had a “calming effect” on the city.
The mayor conceded that she did indeed sign the letter, but that she did not write it. She said she has signed other letters of recommendation for former city employees.
“That’s standard procedure” she said.
Despite that glowing recommendation, Majewski said “it’s a different situation today.”
By that she meant the achievements of Powell have surpassed others who were in the position of city manager in Hamtramck. Majewski has been a strong supporter of Powell.
To no one’s surprise, the four majority councilmembers agreed to hire Tertzag by the end of the meeting. He was given a salary of $8,000 a month, which is not to exceed $108,000 for one year’s service.
He will start on July 1 provided the RTAB approves his contract.