By Ian Perrotta
The year 2010 was packed with news, so let’s get right to it. Here is the second and final part of the Year in Review.
In the first week of July medical marijuana came to Hamtramck. The Hamtramck Compassion Club (THCC) began holding bi-monthly meetings to help educate the community on the impact that the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act can have on them. Voters approved legalizing pot in November of 2008, and the law went into effect in April of 2009.
“We want to be completely within the law. We’re not doing what they don’t say we can’t do, we’re doing what they do say we can do,” said club founder Gregg Black.
For the second year in a row, the Bangladeshi Festival on Conant Ave. was a smashing success. About 5,000 people attended the three-day event, which was organized by the Bangladesh Association of Michigan. The festival featured lively entertainment that included games for the community, the musical stylings of several local groups and even a performance by a Bangladeshi pop star.
Mayor Karen Majewski gave the annual State of the City address, and though attendance was considerably less than in years past, the importance of the speech was significantly greater. Unlike the 2009 address, which painted a very rosy and bright picture of Hamtramck’s future, this year’s speech was ominously darker. The most notable part of the speech – and something that would take a lead role in shaping the city’s future in coming months – was that the dispute between the city and Detroit over tax revenue from the Poletown plant had caused the city to adopt a fiscal strategy that utilized its emergency funding. Majewski said that could lead to the state taking back control of Hamtramck – and soon.
“That is an unsustainable strategy, which by best estimate will deplete the fund and send us into deficit spending – and thus into receivership – by the first quarter of 2011,” she said.
At the same time, the city began to ramp up its tax fight with Detroit. While Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and his City Council fought about finances, Hamtramck City Councilmember Cathie Gordon saw an opportunity to play the two parties’ animosity against each other to the benefit of Hamtramck. She made an emotional “pitch” to the Detroit Council and warned them that if Hamtramck doesn’t get the money, “the city will go belly-up.”
Detroit councilmembers told Hamtramck officials they were unaware of Hamtramck’s dispute and seemed to be sympathetic, and City Manager Bill Cooper was invited back to speak with the council’s finance committee. But in a strange twist, a Channel 7 interview with Mayor Bing showed him claiming that he was unaware of the dispute with Hamtramck, a quote which Cooper categorized as “untrue.”
“That raises some questions in my mind,” he said. “We met with the special assistant of Bing and met with Bing.”
The Review caught up with new Weed and Seed Site Director Barbara Stachowski, who had recently signed on with the team. As a specialist in Asian Community Relations she believed that Hamtramck, with its many and diverse ethnic groups, epitomized the concept of community.
Our special contributor (and former quarterback of Hamtramck High) Omar Thabet also caught up with another of Hamtramck’s newsmakers. Mohamed Zindani, a 2009 Hamtramck grad, was profiled for being accepted into the CB United international fashion design house.
And that was just the first week.
With the next week came the Fourth of July and the holiday’s requisite picnic. Despite a temporary hiatus, the Central Block Club’s first foray back into holding events turned out remarkably well. About three dozen or so people trickled in-and-out throughout the day, and the barbecue offered them a chance to meet and get to know each other in an informal setting and on friendly terms. Swapping stories over watermelon, brownies and burgers – both regular and veggie – residents were able to laugh at their similarities and joke about their differences.
Talk of receivership began to heat up, and a special City Council Meeting was held to discuss the situation. During the meeting, City Manager Bill Cooper warned that by next January or February city employees could face payless paydays. He also said that eventually, there could be a merger with another city for police and fire services, and that by this time next year the city could be flat broke.
An even worse situation almost played out for a 20-year-old Hamtramck woman. She barely escaped what likely would have resulted in rape and murder when she and a group of friends were approached by a man armed with a revolver who ordered her friends to go inside and for the woman to get in his car. Arthur Paschal, 44, was ultimately arrested and charged with 10 felonies after the woman fought back, ran away and, along with her friends, gave police a description of his vehicle. A chase ensued, ending when he crashed his car into a building in the Eight Mile/Van Dyke area. Paschal, who had served 17 years in prison for murder and had just been let out a year ago, was already wanted for being a parole absconder.
“If we had not caught him, he was going to do it right away to somebody else,” said Hamtramck Chief of Detectives Dan Misiak.
Questions about the city’s Recreation Department continued to be raised after an assessment of the program found that it enrolled only four percent of the city’s kids in its summer program. Leading the critique of the department was School Boardmember Hedy Shulgon, who had been outspoken in her inquiries and concerns about the Recreation Department. When told only 185 kids had signed up for the summer program, Shulgon said she was disappointed.
“I was hoping there would be a lot more,” she said.
Also continuing to heat up were talks about the upcoming Hamtramck Labor Day Festival. Though the fate of this year’s festival was up in the air just weeks before, it was shaping up to be one to remember. There were plans for musical and comedic performances, a happy hour each day from 3-4 p.m., a charitable 5K fun run, the return of the great Hamtramck Boat Race, a campsite and much more. To help fund these events a fundraiser at The Review’s office was planned, as was a good old-fashioned road rally.
In the next week, people were having a ball at the Painted Lady, where Jessica Land Conti was teaching a ballroom dancing class on Thursday nights. A student of musical theater in college who later became certified by the International Ballroom Dance Teachers Association, Conti had for years been asked by her friends to teach them the art of the dance. Finally succumbing to their requests, she began with the barter of “If I teach you to dance, you buy me a beer” and from there expanded it to free classes.
“I keep it free because I don’t want to have business involved,” she said. “This isn’t a job – it’s just for fun.”
Elsewhere, City Manager Bill Cooper continued to try to convince the City Council to raise taxes – or, rather, to allow voters to decide whether to raise property taxes – by 5 mills in order to offset the cost of running the police and fire departments. But despite his estimates that the tax would raise $1 million a year, the proposal was met by silence from the City Council, who didn’t even make a motion to vote on it.
“It could have put us in what I call a reasonable deficit,” said Cooper.
The political news didn’t stop there, though. With the Primary Election just a month away, Hamtramck was well represented. Several local candidates were vying for office, including current City Councilmembers Shahab Ahmed, who ran for State Representative, and Tom Jankowski, who sought the Wayne County Commissioner seat.
It seemed like the City Council finally agreed on something when they all concurred that the stadium in Veterans Park should be preserved. A presentation on the stadium’s history was given by baseball author and historian Gary Gillette, who highlighted the many important reasons for not only preserving the current structure, but rehabilitating it into its former glory. He said that it was one of only five former home ballparks for the Negro National League, and that with three of them in jeopardy, it would likely become one of the last standing structures of a bygone era, and thus immensely important and historical. He also noted that if Hamtramck could accomplish a full historic preservation of the stadium it would make headlines across the country.
“I guarantee that if you preserve this stadium it will be a national story,” he said.
Later that week in City Hall, a bold idea was hatched to strike back at the city of Detroit, which had been withholding about $3 million in tax payments from the Poletown plant. In retaliation against Detroit’s refusal to pay their share of tax dividends, Hamtramck decided to stop making monthly payments to Detroit for water and sewer services. The estimated $230,000 a month was to be held in escrow by a third party until an agreement could be reached.
“In 10 months we’ll have our money back,” City Manager Bill Cooper said with a laugh.
And in another form of withholding payment – or, rather, demanding a refund – three area teens were charged with armed robbery and using a firearm in the commission of a felony after they hired a prostitute in Hamtramck, and, after being sexually pleasured, allegedly pulled out a gun and robbed her. Amazingly, police say they were able to apprehend the suspects after the prostitute tore the dangling license plate off of their car. The incident kicked off a firestorm of controversy on The Review’s website, with many of the alleged perpetrators’ apparent friends coming to their defense in light of the allegations.
There was more craziness when a police officer’s check on three suspicious-looking men in a car resulted in a life-threatening moment. After noticing the men sitting in a vehicle behind the former Shoppers World plaza, the officer ran the plates on the car, and, realizing it was stolen, attempted to intervene. As she approached the suspects the driver struck her patrol car with the vehicle, and fearing for her life the unidentified police officer fired several shots. Though back-up arrived shortly thereafter and a chase ensued, it was terminated due to the risk of injury to innocent bystanders. The suspects are still at large.
The final week of July saw the return of the Recreation Department’s annual Junior Olympics, but it also brought more controversy to the department after it was discovered that the newly purchased restrooms were unavailable for use during peak hours. Hamtramck School Boardmember Hedy Shulgon said that despite Recreation Director Craig Daniels’ insistence that they were open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and for most of the day during the weekend, the truth was that the restrooms were rarely open to the public.
Following the direction of several other area municipalities, Hamtramck decided to explore its options of regulating medical marijuana, which was legalized in 2008 with the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act. The proposed ordinance sought to restrict the areas where growing marijuana was legal through the use of zoning regulations, but after a lengthy discussion it was decided that no action would be taken at the that time.
About 20 teachers and other public school employees took advantage of a state buyout to retire, which initially cost the district $440,000 but will ultimately save it a considerable amount of money in years to come. The buyout was part of a larger five-year plan by the district to close a $2.8 million budget deficit.
And in an unfortunate turn for drivers, a proposed speed trap law hit a roadblock in the state legislature when special interest groups intervened with local lawmakers’ plans to curtail the despised practice. State Representatives Rick Jones and Bettie Cook Scott were trying to pass an amendment that would require municipalities to conduct traffic studies to ensure the speed limits on their roadways were at an accurate level.
The big news in the first week of August was the results of the Primary Elections on Aug 3. While Hamtramck’s growing Bangladeshi-American community continued to flex its political muscle, it wasn’t yet strong enough to carry their candidates into state office. Four Hamtramck candidates who had received support over the past few years from the Bengali community finished a far distance behind in the race for state Representative. However, the voter turnout for the election was much larger than in 2008, which political observers said is due to the Bengali voting bloc that appears to be getting stronger.
Elsewhere in the Primary there were a number of upsets, both large and small. Wayne County Commissioner Moe Blackwell was booted off the Democratic ticket – and, with that, essentially out of office – and replaced by longtime politician Martha Scott, who was termed out of her seat in the state Senate. City Councilmember Tom Jankowski also ran in that race but finished dead last. And forgoing an easy re-election for his seat as a state Representative, Bert Johnson won the seat vacated by Scott in the state Senate.
Hamtramck Public Schools were also making news when it was announced that state test scores showed the district’s students continue to improve. Unfortunately, the same test also showed they still had a way to go before hitting state averages. Superintendant Tom Niczay credited the improvement in test results to the continued focus on preparing students.
“It’s a combination: instruction, planning for it, the kids and extreme emphasis on it,” he said. “We’re definitely on the right road.”
In the conclusion of this subject, the final meeting to discuss the revision to the city’s Master Plan was held at the library. It was the last chance for the public to get a glimpse at what was being proposed and also to gauge which areas were most important to focus on. Though it was more sparsely attended than in meetings past, at its conclusion the area of Recreation & Open Spaces was deemed to be in need of the most immediate attention.
At People’s Community Services, the month-long program about self-advocating put on by University of Michigan Masters of Social Work interns Whitney Lacefield and Cheri Pace culminated with the presentation of “My Community, My Voice.” In this multimedia presentation, area youth were able to creatively express their feelings about important subjects through a variety of media.
And if it seemed like it was more crowded in town than usual during the first week of August, it was because several dozen churches – including Hamtramck’s own REAL Church – were in town pitching in. Called “War Week,” the week-long event was an execution of community service with military-like precision. The youth completed a city-wide clean-up, and on Aug. 4 they took over the city lot at Caniff and McDougall to set up a one-stop shop that provided a host of services. In addition to giving a bag of groceries and a health screening to those in attendance, the church also provided haircuts, family portraits and caricature drawings free of charge.
The second week of August brought news of the greatest party of all time – the Hamtramck Review Labor Day Festival Fundraiser. Over $3,000 were raised to help offset festival costs, but the real story was that if Publisher John Ulaj throws a party, you don’t want to miss it. Local favorite Danny D performed a set on a custom-built stage in the newly renovated courtyard of The Hamtramck Review office. For $20, guests were invited to dine on Royal Kabob and Polish cuisine and have their way with an open – and full – bar.
More money was raised for the festival the next day with the return of the Hamtramck Road Rally. Sort of like a scavenger hunt on wheels, contestants were given a bag of clues they had to figure out, and, based on their completion time and number of correct answers, a winning team was chosen. This year’s winning team consisted of Mary Przybyl, Basia Grabas, Nick Nowakoski and Mari Terokowski.
At City Hall, the Council got lost in a legal haze during a special meeting for a proposed zoning ordinance that would limit the areas where people would be allowed to grow medical marijuana. After several hours of debate and testimony, it was decided that there was still not enough information on the subject for the Council to make an informed decision. However, the city was cautioned by attorney Paul Tylenda, who told them being proactive was the best bet.
“It’s better to take control of it now than to wait around for the state to set up guidelines,” he said. “The people that care about Hamtramck are the people inside of Hamtramck.”
During the regular City Council meeting, an ordinance proposed by Cathie Gordon to make a change to the City Charter was shot down. The vote on her proposal – to have the treasurer appointed by, and responsible to, the mayor and council, instead of the city manager – was split down the middle, with the tie broken by Mayor Karen Majewski. In defense of her proposal, Gordon said she wasn’t “implicating” the current city manager, but rather she thought there could be a better way to handle things.
“I’m not comfortable with our system of checks and balances,” Gordon said. “We’ve had too many incidents of money falling through cracks.”
Hamtramck went Hollywood during the third week of August when a portion of the movie “Vamps” was filmed at the Record Graveyard on Caniff. Production for the movie, which stars Alicia Silverstone, took over the city lot at Caniff and McDougall for three days. It may be indicative of a future trend in the city, as several major motion pictures have filmed in and around Hamtramck, including the Drew Barrymore flick “Whip It.”
The public school district stayed in the news when the Michigan Department of Education released a list of the bottom 92 schools in the state. Fortunately for Hamtramck, it was nowhere near the bottom.
Chinese food returned to Hamtramck when Kuen Kwong re-opened the Golden Hill Chop Suey restaurant at the intersection of Jos. Campau and Caniff. The revival of the business was welcomed in Hamtramck and residents quickly found their favorite meals.
In a well-played but ironic hand, the 2010 Hamtramck Poker Run raised over $600 for the Weed and Seed’s Drug Education for Youth (DEFY) Mentor Program. Set-up in the form of a bar crawl, participants collected a playing card at each bar, and after the fifth and final stop played a hand with those cards.
“It was even better than I expected it to be,” said event organizer Kevin LaPointe. “It was a complete success and everyone had a great time.”
After fielding numerous complaints about blight from residents, the city decided to do something by budgeting $70,000 to combat the growing problem. A special work session was held to attack the situation, at which Councilmember Cathie Gordon was able to convince her colleagues to shift half of a proposed $50,000 budget to help businesses start-up toward a new program aimed at housing code enforcement and attacking litter and overgrown yards.
On a literary note, Chairman of the Hamtramck Historical Commission Greg Kowalski published his latest book “Wicked Hamtramck: Lust, Liquor and Lead.” The book chronicles the city during the Prohibition era as well as the Communist movement and some of the most notorious crimes in Hamtramck history.
A baseball legend’s tale was finally ready to be told when the documentary “The Legend of Pinky Deras: The Greatest Little-Leaguer There Ever Was” premiered to a packed crowd at the Hamtramck Community Center. Produced by Brian Kruger and Buddy Moorehouse, the movie chronicled the life of Art “Pinky” Deras from his time as a Little Leaguer to his shot in the Big League.
“It was best to be on the same side as Pinky,” said former Major League player Tom Paciorek, who played with Deras in the Pony League. “I’ve said Art was the greatest Little League player for the last 40 years.”
As Hamtramck continued to wait for the administration of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing to get off its ass and complete – and reveal – an audit of a tax sharing agreement that Detroit and Hamtramck share from GM’s Poletown plant, the budget crisis continued to take center stage. In an attempt to cut expenses and chip away at a projected $3.3 million deficit, the city offered its retirees a yearly $7,500 payment to opt out of a city-funded health insurance plan.
But none of that mattered to four teen suspects who went on a robbery spree across Hamtramck on a Friday night. Unfortunately, after police caught up with the suspect’s getaway car, because only three out of four suspects were caught it was impossible to determine who the driver was and they were ultimately released without charges.
Word continued to spread on saving the grandstands as the effort received some national media attention in the form of a mention on espn.com. The committee tasked with saving the grandstands continued to meet and discuss how best to preserve the stadium as well as how to go about doing so.
Kicking off the month of September was the 2010 Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, and by all estimates it was one of the best ever. After the fate of the event was left up in the air when Special Events Coordinator Eve Doster Knepp was laid off due to budget shortfalls, local residents Kathleen Bittner and Rachel Karpinski Srodek stepped in and organized one hell of party. Over 200,000 people came to the city for a weekend of music, festival food and, of course, beer.
The proposed medical marijuana ordinance continued to raise more questions than answers, and ultimately the City Council decided it would pass on grass. Well, at least, pass on making any decisions involving the regulation of medical marijuana growth. Instead, it decided to wait until the new year, when the next round of politicians could decide on the fate of the state law.
In some not so great news for students heading back to school – although something that makes perfect sense – Hamtramck Public Schools students were required to wear uniforms. While it seemed that the idea was going to take off at the beginning of the year, it’s safe to say the level of observance probably would not receive a passing grade.
Returning for the third year was the Hamtramck Hustle, a car show that features “kustom” cars, ratrods and choppers. A variety of old school rides packed into Veterans Park, and the night ended with musical performances at The Painted Lady.
A well-known business on Conant got a makeover and a name change when the former Gandhi restaurant redid its inside and changed its name to Zamzam. The newly renovated restaurant was a huge change for the eatery, which was now able to serve both casual eaters and the formal dining crowd.
Major news occurred just after Labor Day on Sept. 7 when a firestorm swept through Detroit. All together, nearly 90 separate fires were reported in just a few hour time span. One neighborhood just north of Hamtramck was devastated and lost several homes when it took firefighters an hour to respond. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that firefighters found hydrants that were not working and were forced to back-lay over 500 feet of hose to the nearest hydrant that was operable.
In the weeks after, it was discovered that despite a Mutual Aid agreement between Detroit and Hamtramck, there were no calls made to Hamtramck for assistance during the fires. During the firestorm, Hamtramck firefighters were on standby in case they were needed, and Hamtramck Fire Chief Steve Paruk said they would not have hesitated to lend a helping hand.
“I don’t know why they didn’t call us,” Paruk said. “We would have done something.”
City Councilmember Tom Jankowski ratcheted up his pressure for police concessions, saying that police should pay half the cost of a new bulletproof vest police were required to wear. It was part of a larger campaign by Jankowski to get the department to agree to contract and salary concessions to help offset the $3.3 million budget deficit.
The effort by Jankowski gave former City Councilmember Scott Klein an opportunity to jump back in the political arena. He said that he might file recall petitions against Jankowski and the councilmembers who agreed with him.
“What if a cop gets injured?” Klein said. “If that were to happen, then the Council has blood on its hands.”
There was other news concerning the police that week as well. The department linked into a new system called Nixle, an information network that allows anyone to sign in and find out about breaking news on crime, suspects on the loose and traffic problems. However, it seems that the department has yet to utilize the system, as to date it mostly sends out notices about upcoming events.
The Labor Day Festival wasn’t the only party in town during Labor Day weekend. The community’s Hindu population also took it to the streets of Hamtramck on Saturday of that weekend with a parade celebrate the birth of their god Sri Krishna. The celebration, Suvo Janmastari, a birthday ceremony of Lord Krishna, was sponsored by the Durga Temple, located just outside of the city at McNichols and Ryan.
Despite a national trend that had seen violent crime decline over the past three years, in Hamtramck it was on the rise in 2009. But fortunately, its rate of growth was slower than in years before.
Though school had been in session for three weeks, there was still a waiting game to finish up the city’s sidewalk repairs. After the installation of new traffic signals was complete, in several places around the city the torn-up area surrounding the sidewalk was left open due to problems with the electrical wiring.
However, due to unrelated problem with the contractor it would be another three months until the holes were filled-in.
It was a big milestone for St. Ladislaus Parish this year. The Caniff church marked its 90th anniversary with a special mass celebrated by Episcopal Vicar Msgr. Donald Hanchon. A banquet was held at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren afterward.
Local resident Russ Gordon showed the city that getting to know your neighbors is a picnic. For the fourth year in a row, he held his international picnic on Zinow Street, celebrating the cultural diversity that has come to be a hallmark of Hamtramck.
As if on cue, just as Hamtramck police officials were coming back with good news about the city’s auto theft prevention unit – mainly that it had been spared the budget ax – police officers apprehended two suspected carjackers.
“It underscores the need for the auto theft unit,” said Police Chief Mark Kalinowski.
In other police news, the timing of a city-wide bar sting stirred up questions of whether it was merely coincidence or retaliation. The sting raised some eyebrows because it not only happened after a recent controversy that saw City Council hold up the purchase of bulletproof vests for the Police Department, but also involved two City Councilmembers who also own bars. Tom Jankowski and Cathie Gordon, owners of Whiskey in the Jar and the New Dodge Lounge, respectively, both initially argued that officers should kick in 50 percent of the cost of the vests despite available funding that would not require the city to spend a cent.
The city’s place in history was cemented with the dedication of a Wayside marker commemorating the “Automobile Row” corridor of Jos. Campau. The marker, a plaque made of super futuristic plastic material, gives a brief summary of the road’s history and includes photos of the street during its prime.
There was more news about Jos. Campau in the first week of October, although this time it involved shopping. The 2nd Annual Sidewalk Sale – a tradition resurrected last year by the Downtown Development Authority – was held much to the delight of both local and out-of-town shoppers alike.
The Assistance League of Southeastern Michigan, a non-profit group that in 2009 gave six $1,000 mini-grants to Hamtramck Public Schools teachers, was at it again when members invaded Dickinson East Elementary School as part of “Operation School Bell.” After setting up a store in the school’s gym – complete with racks, “employees” and a check-out aisle – underprivileged kids from the school went shopping for new clothes, books, hygiene kits and a gift card for shoes. The best part? It was all free.
After waiting months for an audit report from Detroit officials about a long-simmering dispute over shared tax revenues from GM’s Poletown plant, Hamtramck finally got an answer. However, city officials had to read about it in a Detroit Free Press story. And, unfortunately, according to the report, Detroit believed that it had overpaid Hamtramck $7.1 million.
The city’s tallest commercial building leaped another hurdle toward a major makeover when owner Mark Hausner was granted $116,000 in tax credits through the Hamtramck Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to help offset the cost of redevelopment. The money won’t be given directly to Hausner but will be skimmed off taxes collected from the future increase in the property’s value.
Hamtramck High’s football team shut down opponent STAR Academy in a blowout homecoming win. The 26-0 victory was so dismantling to opposing players that they had to forfeit in the fourth quarter after an emotionally charged shoving match erupted on the field.
As part of the 350.org environmental project, over 30 youths participated in a clean-up at the St. Aubin Community Garden. The mostly Muslim youths helped pull weeds, edge beds and build a platform to put two water tanks on which will help with watering the plants in years to come.
In another blow to the city’s finances, it was discovered that $57,000 needed to be refunded to American Axle for an overcharge of personal property taxes in 2009. The transfer of manufacturing equipment to other locations caused a significant devaluation of the building. The city also lost $137,000 this year in personal property taxes because the plant was closed down.
Hanley Academy was cleared to graduate to a bigger school when plans to build a new building on Denton Street were approved by the city. Once complete, the new school will be a two-story, 65,000-square-foot facility with enough room for 40 classrooms as well as a gym and science lab.
Local favorite Maria’s Comida got a makeover when its menu looked to the east for inspiration and began to incorporate Asian flavors in its food. The new Mex-Asian fusion was a hit with customers, as was the addition of several new flavors of salsa, which the Pronko family (Maria’s’ owners) has now began to sell in a variety of stores.
The city celebrated all good things about fall with the first-ever Hamtown Harvest Fest, a weekend-long Oktoberfest held in the municipal lot between Polish Village and Polonia Restaurant. Organized by the same people who put together this year’s Labor Day Festival, the event featured musical performances, hayrides, pumpkin carving, vendors and – of course – lots of beer. Though it wasn’t a financial success, it was a great time for everyone in attendance.
A plan by the city to spend $75,000 of Wayne County money was put to an abrupt halt when it was discovered that the grant did not exist. Beverly Watts, the director of the county’s parks department, claimed that the money promised by former Wayne County Commissioner Moe Blackwell was not in this year’s budget, although Blackwell insists that he was told by Watts that there was in fact money on the table, and that it was later rescinded by Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano.
“It’s not that Moe Blackwell didn’t do his job,” said Blackwell, speaking in the third person. “It’s about Bob Ficano playing politics.”
It was declared that an arsonist was on the loose after nearly a dozen arson-suspected fires were reported by the Fire Department. Several of the fires involved the burning of city-issued blue garbage cans. Incidentally, on Halloween the department was busier than in recent years.
“I’m wondering if we have a firebug in town,” said Fire Marshal Paul Wilk.
A Town Hall meeting hosted by Weed and Seed gave residents the opportunity to learn about the program as well meet their neighbors in a relaxed and comfortable environment. During the meeting, personnel from the city’s Police Department spoke on ways that residents can improve their safety and empower themselves to be proactive in fighting crime. Later on in the month, the organization hosted a successful fundraiser to cover the operating costs of the four-year-old non-profit.
There was a new state law which took effect on Halloween that affected drivers who like to drink. Anyone caught driving with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.17 or higher was now legally “super” drunk. If found “super” drunk, drivers now face heavier fines and associated costs as well as the possibility of up to six months in jail.
The new traffic light installed in front of the fire station had drivers seeing red when the federal money used to install it meant they could no longer drive through the light after stopping. Federal safety rules don’t allow blinking red traffic lights, said City Manager Bill Cooper.
“I understand the problem,” he said. “I’ve been caught in a few jams.”
If there is something strange in your neighborhood, who are you gonna call? The Detroit Area Paranormal Research Society, that’s who. Over the last year, local residents Matthew Herch and his fiancée Julie Kelley worked to organize and equip a team to observe and document the area’s paranormal activity. The duo announced a call-to-investigation initiative that sought to find paranormal hotspots in the city in order to further investigate them.
This November kicked off with midterm elections, and at times Hamtramck voters were at odds with state voters. Unlike their statewide counterparts, the city’s voters stayed true to their Democratic Party roots and, for the most part, voted a straight ticket. The big story of this cycle was the victory of Republican Rick Snyder for the governor’s seat.
In other election-related news, it was announced that a whopping 40 percent of voters who voted in the 2009 city elections – 1,276 out of 3,351 – failed to pay Hamtramck income tax. City Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko discovered the discrepancy when he cross referenced the names and addresses of those who voted in the General Election with those who paid income taxes in an attempt to find ways to raise more revenue for the city. Later on in the month, it was revealed that a number of people who were asked to pay income taxes admitted to the Finance Department that they didn’t actually live in Hamtramck.
On Veteran’s Day, Hamtramck showed its support for our veterans in a number of ceremonies across the city. The hub of the day’s activities centered around PLAV Post 10, where Raymond Deloof was named the 2010 Veteran of the Year.
It was the school district’s turn to warn of closings when the school announced that despite a seemingly manageable $5 million deficit in 2009, this year it faced a $6 million deficit. Due to a drastic drop in enrollment this year the district lost over $1 million in state aid, and in order to prevent further deficit spending Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Tom Niczay announced that it would be necessary to end leasing the former St. Lad’s Elementary School at the end of this year. That measure will save almost $500,000 a year.
A new nonprofit came to town in November, and it was ready to help young people succeed in the race of life. Making It To The Finish Line – an organization with the mission to embrace women (and lately men) of all ages and empower them through training, motivation, support and encouragement to reach their highest potential – opened an office at the old UAW Hall at 2140 Holbrook.
The city geared up to save some big bucks in energy costs when it began to finalize energy-saving measures as part of a $460,000 Cities of Promise grant. Hamtramck’s Public Works Director Martin Ladd said energy improvements will be made to City Hall, the Fire Station and the Library.
“We’re going green,” Ladd said.
Dickinson East Elementary was also going green this month. The school’s staff and students teamed-up to create green space on the school’s grounds and to help it become more environmentally friendly overall. Students raised over $4,000 to help fund the project, which included removing concrete in several areas and replacing it with gardens.
The city’s financial picture continued to remain front page news as officials began to have a series of tough conversations about the Hamtramck’s future. Threats of cuts loomed large as the City Council ordered every department to figure out how to cut 10 percent of their budget. City Manager Bill Cooper said he needs to find an additional $3 million a year – either in savings or in new income streams – to keep the city afloat, and in an unprecedented move the Council approved his request to send a letter to the state asking for permission to file for bankruptcy. Though the state would ultimately deny his request and instead offer a number of different loan options, news of the letter made national headlines.
“While this step may seem radical in its approach,” Cooper said, “it is the only approach that will quickly and effectively address our shortfall.”
With a name like Friendship House, you can expect a lot of people to show up at your party, and that’s exactly what happened when the non-profit hosted its semi-annual Community Baby Shower at Corinthian Baptist Church. About 50 new or expectant mothers attended the event, which was the tenth time in six years that it was held.
There was a new horizon for adult education in Hamtramck when the Horizon Adult/Alternative Education Center celebrated the grand opening of its brand new computer lab. The school was equipped with 20 Acer desktop computers complete with flat screen monitors and workspace thanks to a Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth grant.
Call it a coincidence … yeah, a coincidence … but six weeks after Michigan’s smoking ban at bars and restaurants went into effect, there was a decrease of about $8 million in Keno – a game limited to bars – gambling money collected by the state. Incidentally, state lawmakers began reconsidering the ban to allow bars and restaurants to offer smoking rooms. Anecdotal evidence throughout the city showed that the ban had an overall negative impact on businesses, particularly in bars.
The library celebrated its 92nd anniversary with a commemorative ceremony at the Polish National Alliance (PNA) Banquet Hall on Caniff, inducting four new members into its “Hall of Fame.” This year’s inductees were Shannon Lowell, John Ulaj, Titus Walters and Jerzy Dabrowski.
City landmark Peoples State Bank’s future was up in the air after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) downgraded the bank from “significantly undercapitalized” to “critically undercapitalized.”
A hit-and-run accident turned from a small incident to a near scandal when a police officer refused to take a report, saying it was department policy not to take reports for accidents that happen on private property. WXYZ Action News Investigator Scott Lewis picked up on the story, and, after the issue came to light, City Manager Bill Cooper confirmed that the policy had been thrown out.
“Since it’s become an issue, we’re going to change it,” he said.
The holiday season kicked off with the Goodfellows’ food drive, and this year area residents needed help more than ever. Approximately $7,000 was needed to pay for a few thousand meals for needy families.
An intersection of ideas involving the Hamtramck Union of Social Services (HUSS) and the Wayne County Health and Human Services Department may lead to a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) coming to the city. At the non-profit’s final meeting of 2010, the two organizations agreed to pursue the matter as a joint effort.
“I think this is an important project, and if it’s possible to bring in Wayne County to increase funding and improve services to residents, then it’s a good thing,” said City Councilwoman and HUSS member Catrina Stackpoole.
Another Hamtramck favorite returned when the 16th Annual Winter Glow brought residents to the Hamtramck Community Center despite unseasonably chilly weather. Braving temperatures in the teens, residents enjoyed a number of season-themed activities courtesy of the Hamtramck Recreation Department.
After the city announced it was shutting the recycling program due to the budget deficit, the Hamtramck Recycling Commission was determined to keep it going. Counting on donations from those who use the service, it hoped to raise enough money to continue offering the option to residents in the city.
When a party store tried to open its doors across from the Metropolitan Baking Co., it turned into a situation of David versus Goliath. The bakery’s owner claimed that if the party store were to re-open it would bring about negative consequences to his business and the neighborhood.
If taste is king, then the Sultan Al-Kabob – a new restaurant on Conant – rules Hamtramck. The casual dining establishment quickly won over customers after opening its doors early in the month.
“I think we’re one of the best restaurants in Hamtramck,” said manager Wadie Ali.