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
The City Council met on June 14, with all but Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole in attendance. The meeting ran for about three-and-a-half hours, but it included a closed meeting that lasted for approximately 30 minutes.
Although this is election season, the length of the meeting didn’t have that much to do with political posturing. Well, yes, there was some. Largely, the meeting dragged on due to a pile-up of issues.
First off was a lengthy introduction and discussion over the city’s code inspectors. Marty Ladd, the Director of the Public Works Department fielded a number of questions on the role of some of the inspectors.
Councilmember Shahab Ahmed said he’s received complaints from some home owners that after receiving a list of things to repair from a home inspection, a follow-up inspection will lead to even more repairs needed to be done.
Ladd said that what happens is that sometimes more code violations come up after the repairs are made. For instance, he said, a homeowner could be told to rewire part of the house because it’s old wiring. But when the wall is removed to replace the wiring, Ladd said, it’s then discovered that the structure needs to be updated.
Councilmember Tom Jankowski questioned why it takes so long to tear down fire damaged houses. Ladd said it’s a case of insurance companies dragging out their investigations.
(Editor’s note: It can also be the result of trying to figure out who owns the property. Sometimes the title work to a house can be confusing.)
Jankowski also wanted to know why the city has so many garages and sheds in “terrible, terrible shape.”
Ladd said the state’s law on property rights holds up the city from taking action.
“We’re trying our best to whittle this” Ladd said, in reference to speeding up the time it takes the city to get the property repaired or torn down.
Ladd said he is working with the city attorney to find a way to cut down on the number of legal steps needed to take action.
Mayor Karen Majewski asked if any of the inspectors will be working weekends and evenings when many people do home improvement projects.
(Editor’s note: A number of these projects require getting a work permit from the city.)
Ladd said yes, some inspectors will work “odd hours” to catch those who do work without permits. He said other than that, he relies on police officers to take action during their patrols of the city.
(Editor’s note: Ever notice the number of times you see officers driving around while talking on their cell phones? And we’re not talking just about Hamtramck. We see this in the city and suburbs. Which begs the question: Are they really on the lookout? Just saying.)
From the public, former Councilmember, City Clerk and Charter Revision Commissionmember and now candidate for council, Robert Zwolak, talked about a proposed retirement buyouts for two officers.
The proposal was actually only going to be taken up by one officer who is two months shy of retiring. The proposal calls for paying the officer $6,500 so he can retire early.
(Editor’s note: This has to do with Gov. Snyder’s plan to change a retirement formula for public employees. The change takes place July 1, and it would delay the retirement for this officer in question.)
Zwolak cautioned the council to consider what the ramifications will be if the deal is approved, especially considering the city’s financial situation and the possibility that it could trigger state intervention.
Councilmember Jankowski later in the meeting picked up on this issue, and questioned whether this one-time deal could be used by the police union to demand a similar deal.
He said the city also needs to get a contract concession first from the police union before OK’ing the proposal. As it turned out, the council postponed the proposal until the next meeting.
Despite an impassioned plea from Police Chief Mark Kalinowski, the council refused to schedule a special meeting ahead of the next regular meeting. City Manager Bill Cooper noted that if the council waits for the next regular meeting, it is doubtful the state’s public employee pension organization would have enough time to process the retirement.
In other words, as of now, the officer won’t get to retire early.
Councilmember Jankowski added that the police union should be willing to accept a contract concession, such as allowing the city manager to be able to appoint the police chief. Jankowski also said he’s concerned the police union will later demand a similar deal for other officers near retirement, saying it’s part of the contract.
After the council met in closed session to discuss a pending contract negotiation, the meeting came back to a review of the city’s expenses.
Councilmember Cathie Gordon inquired about the city being charged for incarcerating people in the county jail. City Manager Cooper confirmed that indeed, the city is charged to house prisoners in the county jail.
Gordon suggested the city should skip sending prisoners to jail and instead put them on a tether. Cooper said the city is also charged for tether service. He said the jail turns out to be the less expensive alternative because prisoners are sometimes released early.
A lengthy discussion was held on a proposal to purchase four new police vehicles. Cooper said two cars are so “worn out” that they have no “get up and go.”
Two of the police cars will be auctioned off and two are still usable enough to replace worn out cars used by the city administration.
Cooper also noted the new cars will be purchased through drug forfeiture funds. Councilmember Jankowski asked how much money is in that fund. Cooper said a little less than $1 million.
Jankowski also asked how many cars are there in the Police Department and how many are actually needed. Cooper said there are 21 cars within the department, and that the new cars are needed to slow down the wear and tear on the fleet.
In a side note, Cooper said the Fords the department have are not as good as the Chevy Caprices (which have been discontinued).
The council eventually approved of the purchase.
If it’s close to summer (and it will be officially summer next Tuesday), that means it’s festival season.
The Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority received the OK to hold the annual Hamtramck Labor Day Festival.
“I want to applaud you,” said Councilmember Gordon to DDA Director Darren Grow. “I hope you make a ton of money.”
Except for one little thing.
Gordon objected to the wording in the council’s resolution approving the festival. She asked to tweak it to remove the council giving the DDA authority to hold the festival on the grounds that it ties potential responsibility back to the city.
Or something like that. Hey, if someone is going to sue, there’s no stopping them from including the city.
But the tweaking of the wordage was completed, and now everyone can look forward to four days of beer and live music.
Later in the meeting, City Manager Cooper noted that the upcoming Bangladeshi Festival, slated to be held on a portion of Conant next weekend, may have to be forcibly canceled because the organizer failed to meet a deadline to produce a number of documents and insurance forms.
He said with only a week to go, it’s getting too late to allow the festival to go forward.
Mayor Majewski said even if the city gets the info by the end of the week, it still may be too late. She said this is an issue that deals with “respecting” city deadlines and requirements.
Cooper said he will give the organizer until Friday to produce the required documents.
A lengthy discussion was held on a state act that would bring in state officials to review the city’s finances. Councilmember Jankowski said he brought up the issue to enlighten the council on its options down the road and the “triggers” that could lead to state intervention.
Jankowski said that although the city’s finances are shaky over the next few years, he thinks the state won’t have to be called in.
“I’m convinced we can manage our way out,” he said.
Mayor Majewski said she’s “really frightened” of the prospect that the state would take over the city.
“One way or another,” she said, either the city fixes the financial problems or the state will.
Jankowski added that it’s time city unions, especially public safety unions, agree to contract concessions.
“It’s time, the clock is ticking,” he said.
A longtime complaint from a Belmont St. resident about Jet Pizza delivery drivers parking their cars in the alley and causing noise at night was addressed. Councilmember Kazi Miah said the city has to do something about the matter, which has been going on for over a year.
Councilmember Gordon asked City Manager Cooper who is responsible for enforcing the no parking law in the Jos. Campau alley. Cooper said in the evening it’s the Police Department.
Cooper said that illegal parking is one of the least concerns of police officers during the night because they have to deal with a range of serious crimes. He said, though, the department has issued tickets to the drivers and has talked with drivers and the business owner about the matter.
He said the problem seems to go away for awhile but then comes back.
Councilmember Jankowski said that area of the city is often busy at night and that parking is tight on the street. That leaves no other place for the drivers to park, he said.
“We’re not set up to resolve this problem,” Jankowski said.
Councilmember Gordon said many people park in the alley because there is nowhere else to park.
“It’s a way of life in this town,” she said. “There is no room.”
(Editor’s note: After the council meeting, at about 11 p.m., City Hall Insider went through the alley. Sure enough, there were two cars parked behind Jet’s, but it was not clear whether they belonged to employees working there. And as for tight parking at the side of the pizzeria as well as in front, there were many open spaces. It could be the problem is worse during Friday and Saturday nights.)
Mayor Majewski suggested police officers step up patrols along the Jos. Campau alley because they just might catch someone trying to break into a business or house.
In another issue, Councilmember Gordon suggested that Cooper talk with public housing officials here in town about sharing services such as payroll and legal.
Moving on, Councilmember Jankowski said there is a possibility for the city to hire a Bengali police officer candidate, according to an eligibility list that the Police Department hires from.
However, there is an issue because the candidate in question ranked 30th or so in a field of over 100 candidates. The council questioned whether there would be a legal issue, or lawsuit possibility, if the city leapfrogged over more highly qualified candidates.
City Attorney James Allen said although it is unlikely that a legal challenge would be made, the city would have to proceed carefully. He said rather than hire the candidate merely because he is a Bengali, the city would need to structure the job to require someone who speaks that language.