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.
By Charles Sercombe
This is the second part of the May 24 City Council meeting. All councilmembers were present except for Councilmember Mohammed Hassan. The meeting ran for three hours.
Last week, we left off with the city’s new budget being passed, which included a small increase in property taxes.
Let’s now segue into the city manager’s report. In it, City Manager Bill Cooper outlined several issues he has been dealing with, including working with Detroit officials to hand over $3.2 million that Detroit agreed to pay Hamtramck to resolve a dispute over how much tax money Hamtramck should receive from the GM Poletown plant.
“This did not come easy,” said Cooper.
But, the money was indeed wired over to the city, and the city in turn wired back $3.2 million it had been withholding in water and sewer service charges owed to Detroit.
Cooper said he has initiated talks with Highland Park and Detroit over sharing services. He’s also talking to the public school district and Hamtramck’s public housing agency on the same issue.
“At this point all conversations are exploratory, but may eventually lead to detailed negotiations on some form of consolidation,” Cooper said. “Everyone we have talked to is well aware of the Governor’s mandates tied to revenue sharing, and are taking these discussions seriously.”
Speaking of talks, Cooper said he will soon start contract negotiations with the police, fire and public employee unions. Cooper said he will be proposing significant concessions.
“I am sensing an overall air of cooperation from all of the unions. This does not mean that they like what they have heard, or that they will simply roll over and give us what we have asked for, but it means that they have been willing to listen and to begin discussing options,” Cooper said.
Councilmember Tom Jankowski asked Cooper to clarify what he means by “consolidation.”
Cooper said it involves either taking over services for another city or having another city take over some of Hamtramck’s services.
Councilmember Cathie Gordon suggested having Grosse Pointe Park take over Hamtramck’s police dispatch service. She said GPP averages only two calls a night, which means it has plenty of free time to handle Hamtramck’s dispatching duties.
Gordon also suggested the city could save money by having in-house auto mechanics for the Police Department, or taking police cars to the Fire Department for repairs. (The Fire Department has its own mechanic, Gordon said.)
And speaking of police issues, Gordon said she’s received a lot of calls from residents who are upset that they can no longer use their police scanners to listen to police runs.
(Editor’s note: The Police Department recently switched over to an encrypted digital system. The new system has rendered the old analog scanners useless.)
Gordon urged the Police Department to allow the public to be able to listen to their radio communications. She said the public often helps the Police Department catch criminals because they are aware of what officers are seeking.
Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole said she’s not so sure allowing the public to listen to police runs is a good idea. She said criminals also have scanners and use them to avoid arrest.
Speaking of crime, Gordon said there has been an increase in street crimes in the Commor-St. Aubin area.
City Manager Cooper responded: “Welcome to summer,” which drew a loud “No” from someone in the audience.
Cooper said he has talked with the police chief about identifying “hotspots” in the city to get control of the problem.
Gordon suggested bringing in the Police Reserves to help out. Cooper said the council would have to approve the expense of hiring the reserves, which costs $15 per hour per reserve officer.
Councilmember Stackpoole said a large group of kids hang out on her street, St. Aubin, and get into fights. She said one way to prevent kids from congregating is to ban barbecuing in the front of houses.
She also said a number of the younger people gathering are underage.
“Why are we not enforcing our curfew?” asked Stackpoole.
She added that unless action is taken, “someone is going to get severely hurt.”
Councilmember Shahab Ahmed said he’s witnessed “obvious” criminal activity at Holbrook and Brombach in recent weeks. He questioned why police officers aren’t cracking down.
City Manager Cooper said there are a limited number of officers patrolling on each shift, but now that the traffic patrol program is back up and running, more officers will soon be on hand.
Councilmember Jankowski suggested calling in the Wayne County Sheriffs, especially since he and all other residents pay county taxes.
Jankowski was also critical of Cooper for not reacting sooner to the crime problem. He said he was recently invited to ride with officers, but complained that instead of being shown the “hotspots,” he only got to see officers hand out traffic tickets.
Lastly, Jankowski said several bars were recently broken into. He questioned why patrols aren’t being stepped up or made more aware of this particular crime wave.
(Editor’s note: Jankowski is the owner of the bar, “Whiskey in the Jar,” on Yemans St. He said his bar was also broken into.)
From the public, council candidate Robert Zwolak said the city manager should be the one appointing the police chief instead of having the chief come up through the ranks.
(Editor’s note: The selection of police chief is bound by union contract. Having the city manager make the appointment would require the police officers’ union to agree to a contract change – which has a zero possibility of happening unless the city agrees to give up something in exchange.)
Candidate Zwolak agreed with Councilmember Jankowski’s earlier comment that Wayne County Sheriffs should be patrolling the city. But he conceded that having the sheriffs ride into town is a police union contract issue.
Other issues Zwolak touched on include the status of replacing the bus shelter at Jos. Campau and Holbrook (it’s been a year and what’s up with it?) Planters on Jos. Campau (it’s almost June, he said, and what’s up with them?) And the property tax increase the council just passed: “People of this town have been whacked and whacked and whacked.”
A man who identified himself as Kola, previously a resident of Sterling Heights, questioned what services residents are getting for the amount of taxes they pay. He said the city has too many abandoned houses and overgrown lots.
“And you know that brings crime. … Remember, citizens make the city,” he said.
He added that if it’s less expensive to contract out police service, the city should do it.
Pete Hamling talked about his trials and tribulations in trying to purchase the property nextdoor to his house on St. Aubin. The house in question was recently destroyed in a fire, but Hamling said he still wants to purchase the lot and preserve the brick garage that is more or less intact.
Long story made short: Hamling also brought his attorney, and they want to work out a deal to purchase the lot and garage, However, they complained about getting the runaround by city and state officials who insist the garage must be torn down.
So … the city agreed to have its attorney, or one of its attorneys, look into the matter.
(Editor’s note: We know Pete and, yes, he can be a cantankerous guy. But Pete, man, you have a bigger problem: the burned down house is still standing there with all its debris spilled out onto the front. When in the world is someone gonna demolish this major eyesore?)
Tune in again, folks, when the ongoing drama of city life is played out in the June 14 City Council meeting. Meanwhile, look for a follow-up in this issue on the crime problem in the city and what the Police Department is doing to confront it. Plus, we’re going to take a closer look at Pete Hamling’s nextdoor property in next week’s issue.