What is our City Council up to these days? We have the scoop and the highlights – as well as the lowlights – of the latest council meeting.
The City Council met on Oct. 26, and the meeting lasted for two hours. Councilmember Kazi Miah was the only one absent.
Wow. Here it is two weeks later and it seemed like we’d been here before, same room, same discussion. And that discussion Tuesday night was another long round about adopting a zoning law regulating where medical marijuana growers can operate.
Talk about a buzzkill.
In essence, the council decided to join a growing number of other communities by postponing any action on the issue until the state legislature tackles the law.
Councilmember Cathie Gordon proposed tabling the issue based on advice she received from state Rep. Bert Johnson. Johnson told her that state lawmakers will make changes to the law by early January because of so much confusion surrounding the voter-approved law.
Gordon also said the city ought to back off from “commercializing” the cultivation of the plant, saying it should remain a matter between a patient and their caregiver. The council has been debating where to allow medical marijuana collectives to operate.
Collectives are places where several growers can share space.
Councilmember Tom Jankowski, who voted against postponing the adoption of the zoning law, said that all the council is doing is saying where collectives can grow their product. He said ultimately it’s up the council and Plan Commission to decide on where collectives can operate on a case-by-case basis. He stressed this isn’t about interpreting state law.
Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole said she, too, is in favor of postponing the issue because the law needs to be clarified. She said she doesn’t want to see collectives invest money in setting up shop only to see state lawmakers make changes that could derail the collectives.
In a related matter, a proposed ordinance submitted by Councilmember Jankowski to set up guidelines for issuing permits to the collectives was also put on hold until the council meets on Jan. 25.
Jankowski pointed out that by postponing the matter, anyone can still legally open up a collective and start growing marijuana because there is no local law regulating it.
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
And now on to another puzzling and complicated issue.
The council may have opened the proverbial Pandora ’s Box with an ongoing discussion about adopting a law (proposed by Councilmember Gordon) to treat resale and second-hand shops the same as pawn shops. The law would require resale shops to record who sold them merchandise, take their fingerprints, record what was purchased and hold those items for 15 days to see if they come up as stolen goods.
City Attorney James Allen confirmed that there is already a state law that requires all of that, which prompted Councilmember Stackpoole to say: “Why are we bothering doing this if we have a state law?”
Well, the short answer to that was supplied by Allen who said that by having a local law, court fines would go into the city’s coffers instead of going to the state.
But this issue raised a number of concerns with Mayor Karen Majewski, who said she often deals in second-hand goods. She said requiring resale shops to catalog merchandise and fingerprint those who sell goods is burdensome and is “archaic in the way these businesses operate.”
Gordon conceded that it appears the city’s police force is not enforcing the law and in fact may not even be aware of it. She stressed that her concern is that stolen goods are being trafficked through some of the shops. She said that by adopting a local law, the enforcement aspect will be “softer” on the shops here in town.
Councilmember Jankowski jumped on that remark, asking Gordon if she advocates being “soft” on crime.
Gordon said her point is that by adopting a local law, it will educate the resale shops in town. Councilmember Stackpoole countered, saying the shops can be informed about the state law any time.
“Why are we wasting our time?” she said.
Mayor Majewski continued in her concern over how burdensome the law is. She said what if someone sold a vinyl record at one of the used record stores here? Would the store be required to fingerprint the seller and do all the paperwork required by state law?
Gordon dismissed the notion of local record stores being overburdened, saying it’s likely a store like Record Graveyard buys at most three albums a week. (Editor’s note: Cathie, you might want to check with the owner. Your estimate is way, way off.)
Stackpoole sort of changed her tune from “why are we wasting our time” to, well, she has no problem passing a local law in order to keep court fines locally. But she noted that passing the law won’t reduce criminals from stealing things. The criminals, she said, will just go someplace else that’s easier to sell their stolen items.
She even took it one step further, saying that by making it easier to sell stolen items to shops in town, the victims have a better chance of recovering their goods.
After all that discussion, the council, except for Jankowski, voted to hold a public hearing on the ordinance on Nov. 9. However, there is still debate on what the law should include.
“Is it required we mimic the state ordinance?” Majewski said at one point, and further questioned if things could be left out. She also wondered about “selective enforcement.”
In a review of items that the city needs to pay, Councilmember Gordon motioned to withhold a $68,000 payment owed to Detroit for water and sewer service. The council has been withholding that payment in retaliation against Detroit.
Detroit is withholding $3 million in tax revenue from the GM Poletown plant in an ongoing legal dispute. Councilmember Jankowski was the only councilmember to oppose not paying Detroit.
The council agreed to lease the former PLAV Post 1 hall on Holbrook to the city’s Friends of the Historical Commission for $1 a year with an option to allow the organization to purchase the building for $1.
The hall will be converted into a historical museum. Community & Economic Development Director Jason Friedmann explained that by leasing, the city can explore whether it can receive special grants to help the Friends group renovate the building.
The council also agreed to a deal where the city will purchase eight, possibly nine, houses and commercial buildings to renovate. The ambitious project is being funded through a $15 million federal stimulus grant (which is administered through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority).
Friedmann, who is the city’s point person in the project, said he has yet to decide whether to by one of the houses because it was recently destroyed in a fire. He said it might be to the advantage of the city to purchase it because demolition money can be tapped sooner than waiting for Wayne County to raze the structure.
He said houses will be redeveloped and offered for sale. The commercial properties will be developed into a combination of living quarters and a space for a commercial business.
OK, this next issue has several levels to it, so hold on. Councilmember Gordon noted that she saw a public notice in a recent issue of The Review in which the state’s Liquor Control Commission was preparing to issue a “Club” liquor license to a non-profit group operating out of the former UAW hall at Holbrook and Lumpkin.
The group, she noted, mentors kids from age 7 to 18. Gordon said it’s “morally” wrong to allow the group to sell liquor in the same building where kids are being mentored. She said the city has a “zero tolerance” policy on allowing children to be in establishment where liquor is sold and consumed.
Here’s where something needs to be pointed out: Gordon is the owner of the New Dodge Lounge and was recently subjected to a sting operation from the Police Department in which underage decoys were sent to her bar to see if they would be carded.
Gordon’s bar passed the test. Not so true with three other bars in town, including a bar owned by Councilmember Jankowski.
Now here’s where things take a twist. That sting came a couple days after a vote was held on whether to approve the purchase of bullet proof vests for the Police Department using drug forfeiture funds. Jankowski was initially against it, saying since the police officers’ union refused to agree to salary cuts, which other city employees have either agreed to or were forced to take, the officers should be required to purchase vests out of their clothing allowance.
Jankowski eventually backed off from that position and agreed to the original purchase deal.
Although Gordon voted to approve the purchase, she had agreed to hold up the purchase to allow Jankowski to explore his proposal. The vote to purchase the vests came close to a deadline in which the Police Department could have had lost a 50 percent matching grant from the Justice Department, meaning the city would have to come up with the money.
That didn’t go down well with the Police Department. Gordon questioned the timing of the bar stings and why her bar and Jankowski’s were targeted.
Councilmember Stackpoole said the group needs the license to hold fundraisers. Further discussion of the issue was held off until a formal request for the license will be presented to the council at its Nov. 9 meeting.
No matter, Gordon was adamant in not allowing the organization to have a license, and instead suggested the group rent a hall to hold fundraisers. (Editor’s note: Hmmmm … maybe hold the fundraisers at, say, the New Dodge Lounge? Just kidding Cathie.)
Gordon was on a roll. Gordon had previously abstained in a vote to award a new contract to the city’s legal firm, The Allen Brothers, but she questioned why the mayor and city manager agreed to pay the law firm the same amount of money it has paid for the last five years, considering the city’s budget woes.
Mayor Majewski pointed out that the legal services were put out to bid and that the Allen Brothers’ bid was the best deal for the city.