By Charles Sercombe
What is usually a routine matter in putting together the city’s annual budget turned into anything but that on Saturday morning.
Saturday’s discussion in city hall with the city manager and city council took a sudden and unexpected turn when Treasurer John Gabor, who is also the deputy city manager, spoke out against the budget.
According to sources who were at the meeting, Gabor said the budget was full of “lies” and that City Manager Katrina Powell was setting the city up for “disaster.”
An uproar ensued with Powell insisting Gabor to sit down and remain silent.
A recess was called by the mayor, and Gabor then left the building.
To no one’s surprise, Gabor was placed on paid administrative leave on Monday when he came to city hall. He will reportedly be off work for the remainder of this employment contract, which expires June 30.
City Manager Powell was asked by The Review for comment on the incident, but as of press time on Thursday she did not respond. The Review was not at the budget meeting.
The Review reached Gabor on phone Monday, but he declined to comment, saying: “The city is in enough turmoil as it is. I don’t want to add to it.”
The incident sparked a heated debate on Facebook among councilmembers and the mayor.
Gabor’s departure underscores growing tension among elected officials and those in city hall.
For the past few months discord among officials has risen since a bare majority of councilmembers rejected a proposal to negotiate a contract extension with Powell.
Her employment contract with the city ends on June 30.
The same bare majority of councilmembers — Anam Miah, Abu Musa, Mohammed Hassan and Saad Almasmari — also called for a special meeting two weeks ago to post a job for an interim city manager.
That meeting raised accusations that the four councilmembers colluded behind the scenes and violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
The four also refused to release a copy of their resolution before the special meeting. Councilmember Almasmari admitted on Tuesday at the monthly Receivership Transition Advisory Board (RTAB) meeting that he refused to provide a copy of the resolution to Councilmember Ian Perrotta prior to the meeting for fear that Perrotta would post it on his Facebook page.
That admission may have offered proof that the four councilmembers discussed a city issue and came to a decision privately, outside of a public meeting, in violation of the OMA.
Further complicating issues have been the departures in recent weeks of department heads. The directors of finance and public works have left employment with the city, but there are people in place to carry out their duties.
At Saturday’s budget meeting it was revealed that Gabor would no longer be employed and he would be replaced by the deputy treasurer.
It was unclear if he was aware of this before the meeting.
Gabor was hired along with Powell over two years ago by the former emergency manager. Gabor was among a handful of other candidates seeking to become the city manager.
Although he didn’t get the job, the EM decided to include him in the administration.
Powell has said she would not renew Gabor’s contract because there might be a new city manager and it would be unfair to her successor to not have a say in appointments. She has said the new city manager should be able to pick their staff.
Powell’s future with the city has been unclear for the past few months.
In April the RTAB, which oversees all financial decision of the city, appeared to be on the verge of extending Powell’s contract but at its Tuesday meeting the matter was not addressed.
One RTAB member told The Review the state decided to allow the city council to decide what course to take. The state is in the process of returning full local control to the city.
Hamtramck came under state supervision four years ago because of a financial crisis.
As of now, it is unclear if there will be a city manager in place when Powell’s contract expires. It is believed by some who are familiar with the matter that the four councilmembers who blocked extending Powell’s contract have a person in mind to hire and that the posting for city manager candidates is just a formality.
Their disapproval of Powell has often flared into angry exchanges at city council work sessions and regular meetings.
Councilmember Almasmari has not held back on his Facebook page, accusing Powell of running a “dictatorship” in city hall.
Powell’s supporters, Councilmembers Andrea Karpinski and Ian Perrotta, as well as Mayor Karen Majewski, have said that the criticism of Powell is based on non-factual allegations.
Perrotta said there are some councilmembers who have problems with Powell that are “personal and do not have any professional basis.”
Powell told the RTAB that her budget proposal has nothing to hide, as Gabor seemed to imply during his outburst at Saturday’s budget meeting.
“There’s nothing hidden in the budget,” Powell told the RTAB. “Numbers don’t lie. People lie.”