By Charles Sercombe
In a hastily called special city council meeting on Friday afternoon, a bare majority of councilmembers voted to take steps to hire an interim city manager.
But that vote faces some legal hurdles before any action can take place.
The meeting also raised a number of questions about the transparency and motive of those who called for the meeting. On Thursday evening, Mayor Pro Tem Anam Miah, along with the support of Councilmembers Mohammed Hassan, Saad Almasmari and Abu Musa, posted a notice for a special meeting for Friday at noon.
While the posting deadline met the guidelines set by the state’s Open Meetings Act, there was a question of whether the four councilmembers violated the law by doing a behind-the-scenes “round robin” to discuss the matter.
The OMA forbids elected officials to talk privately among themselves about a pending city issue and come to a decision.
During the meeting, Councilmember Miah, who chaired the meeting because Mayor Karen Majewski was unable to attend, refused to let City Attorney Travis Mihelick to speak, despite requests from Councilmembers Andrea Karpinski and Ian Perrotta to allow Mihelick to talk about the pending resolution.
As it turned out, that may have been a fatal flaw for the resolution. Mihelick said the resolution failed despite a bare majority supported it because there needs to be at least five votes to fire a city manager.
It was not immediately clear why Mihelick interpreted the language of the resolution to mean City Manager Katrina Powell was being fired.
The resolution “declared” a vacancy in the city manager’s position when Powell’s contract expires on June 30. The resolution further instructed that “appropriate steps be taken to appoint a qualified interim city manager.”
The meeting followed up on an action taken several weeks ago to reject a proposal to have the city attorney negotiate a contract extension with Powell. The same four councilmembers who called for Friday’s meeting also were the bare majority to block a contract extension with Powell.
Another hurdle facing the resolution is that it must be approved by the state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board. The RTAB does not meet until two weeks, on May 23.
The meeting lasted for a little over one hour and at times the filled-to-capacity council chambers erupted into shouting matches between audience members and the council.
Police Chief Anne Moise had to warn some of the more vocal audience members several times that they would be thrown out of the meeting unless they settled down.
Three police officers were in the council chambers and a few others were in the outside hallway.
At one point a 10-minute recess was held to cool down tempers.
Councilmembers Karpinski and Perrotta lambasted their four colleagues for calling the meeting at the last minute and trying to ramrod the resolution through. Karpinski repeatedly accused Miah of being “out of order.”
Perrotta chastised the four councilmembers who called for the meeting for not having the courtesy to answer his email asking for an explanation for the meeting and to provide a copy of the proposed resolution.
“That was egregious,” he said.
The resolution was not made available until the start of the meeting, and it was two pages of a list of grievances against Powell.
Most of the faults the four councilmembers included were vague at best. For example, one accused her of refusing to “prosecute certain property owners that she favors.”
Another grievance accused her of hiring a person to “curry support among a certain member of this council.”
The resolution also lashed out at Powell for being “dismissive of and disrespectful to the city council.”
But the worst tongue-lashing came from those who attended the meeting, who directed their criticism to the four councilmembers who called for the meeting.
The call for the meeting, said Carrie Beth Lasley, “reeks of collusion.”
Former city Treasurer Mike Wilk said the resolution and meeting was “a bunch of baloney. Might as well done it in a back alley.”
Susan Dunn was among several who warned the council’s action would result in a lawsuit.
“This city has enough frivolous lawsuits, and you’re creating another one,” she said.
“We’re not going to sit quietly,” she added, and indeed, she was later warned by Chief Moise to quiet down or get escorted out.
Jeremy Duncan demanded to know who the councilmembers had in mind as an interim city manager. He waited for over a minute for an answer, but there was only silence.
One wiseacre played the “Jeopardy” game show theme on their cell phone while the time passed.
After the long moment of silence and not getting an answer, Duncan said: “The silence was deafening,” and then returned to his seat.
There was at least one supporter of the four councilmembers in audience. Bill Meyer, who heads up a local group that promotes ethnic harmony in the community, called OneHamtramck, said he’s seen other city managers get removed by “stranger methods.”
He said the community has to accept the decision of a majority on council.
“That’s the way it goes,” Meyer said.
He also said that Powell was hired by the former emergency manager without the consent of the council, calling it “an undemocratic process.”
Councilmember Hassan defended his vote by saying he was simply taking steps to fill Powell’s position once her contract runs out.
He insisted that the council – not the state – has the sole authority to hire the next city manager. He said if the council has no authority, “let the government step up.”
That action could indeed happen.
During the April RTAB meeting it was strongly hinted that the state is considering to extend Powell’s contract.
Discussion among councilmembers came to abrupt halt by Councilmember Miah, who ended the talk and called for an immediate vote. That prompted Councilmember Perrotta to explode and shout out:
“This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.”
And at another point he looked at Miah and said: “Who’s the dictator now?”
Both Perrotta and Karpinski abstained from the vote in an apparent attempt to delegitimize the proceedings.
At the end of the meeting City Manager Powell said there were many “lies” spoken about her record and that the resolution “didn’t pass.”
Also at the meeting was council candidate Fadel Almarsoumi, a newcomer to city politics, who was taking the experience in.
The meeting, and the process of how the resolution worked its way through, gave him “great insight.”
While he didn’t have an opinion on the resolution, he said that despite the chaotic moments of the meeting, “it’s always darkest before dawn.”