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City Hall Insider …

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 July 12. Councilmember Shahab Ahmed was absent for the second meeting in a row. The meeting ran for over two hours.

Excuse us for think we had a flashback at this meeting. Could it have been the return (for the umpteenth time) of the issue of adopting a zoning and licensing ordinance for medical marijuana growing centers?

Well, we’re not going to pull a “Bill Clinton” and say we never inhaled.

This time around though, the subject had an entirely different ending, so apparently it wasn’t a flashback. Yep, it was the real deal. The council unanimously agreed to take the first step in adopting two ordinances regulating the much maligned weed.

But before you take a long sigh of relief – or perhaps have an outburst of anger, depending on how you feel about this subject – let’s recap one item that came up first.

Namely, the council agreed to rearrange the agenda order, from now on, to allow the public to speak before new topics are discussed. For years, the order of things has been to allow the public to speak at the beginning of the meeting on only those subjects listed in the agenda for that meeting, and then at the very end on any subject they wish to.

Councilmember Cathie Gordon proposed moving the second public comment section up in order to allow the public to weigh in on matters that had been discussed, and to possibly allow the council to reverse decisions made earlier in the meeting.

As for the medical marijuana ordinances, the discussion essentially revolved around minor changes in the wording of some sections. For example, Councilmember Gordon opposed to a reference to a “retail” space allotted in growing centers because she said that implies money being exchanged.

She wanted “retail” to be swapped out with the phrase “pick-up center.”

Well, as it turns out, City Attorney Jim Allen said that money indeed will be exchanged for marijuana since state law allows growers — or caretakers as they are called – to charge money for their product — just like any other drug provider.

Gordon also objected to allowing growing centers to set up on the Jos. Campau business district.

(Editor’s note: God forbid that a business actually move into any one of the dozens of vacant storefronts.)

Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole noted that since there are already pharmacies, such as Rite Aid located on Jos. Campau, which also sell controlled drugs, there is no reason to ban growing centers.

Gordon also questioned why one of the two ordinances instructs the Police Department to give enforcement of the laws regulating medical marijuana the “lowest priority.”

City Attorney Allen said this was included so that police officers focus on more serious crime issues instead of harassing to legitimate medical marijuana users and growers.

Councilmember Kazi Miah suggested increasing the distance from 500 feet to 1,000 feet where a growing operation or dispensary can locate from a church or school.

Councilmember Stackpoole said that’s an impossible restriction in Hamtramck because there are so many schools, churches and mosques in the city.

“If you go to 1,000 (feet) in this small town, it will make it very difficult,” she said.

(Editor’s note: For you novice government watchers, there’s an old saying about the process and lengthy discussions legislators torture themselves to make laws: You don’t want to see how sausage is made nor how laws are made. Just for your interest, we have seen how sausage is made. And we have seen how laws are made. On the whole, we would rather spend a day watching sausage being made rather than spending a couple of hours watching laws being made. At least at the end of sausage making, there is a silence … an eerie kind of silence. Fava beans and Chianti, anyone?)

(Another Editor’s note: Anyone who calls or emails and is the first to correctly identify what pop cultural reference we just made will win … a can of fava beans and a bottle of Chianti. But … you have to be able to pick it up because we’re too cheap to deliver or mail out – sorry Al over there in Hawaii. … Hmmmm … Hawaii … On second thought, maybe we’ll make an exception in your case Al. We’ll call you.)

Where were we? Did we just inhale?

Oh yeah, medical marijuana.

OK, here’s the upshot, because we have a short attention span: The council unanimously agreed to a first reading of the ordinance (see what we mean about sausage making and law making?) and to hold a public hearing on the issue at the next council meeting.

(All this talk of sausages, it’s making us really, really hungry. It’s like we could eat bowls and bowls of cereal.)

Actually, this subject ain’t over yet. One sort of controversial thing that came up in this discussion was that there is a $5,000 yearly fee for anyone who wants to operate a growing center and a one-time fee of $1,000 to apply for a license.

Councilmember Stackpoole said she wants to do further research to see if these fees are in line with other communities.

“I don’t want to be so outrageous that no one can comply,” Stackpoole said.

Councilmember Tom Jankowski said there should be higher fees for larger operators.

City Manager Bill Cooper presented a report of what he’s been up to lately. And that would be the fact that he recently appointed himself Acting Police Chief.

(Editor’s note: That appointment has resulted in a grievance filing from the union representing the police brass in the department.)

Cooper said he appointed himself because he wanted to get a closer look into what’s going on the department. So far, he said, the appointment is “going well.”

Cooper said he will step down once a new chief is appointed. In the meantime, he said, testing for the position will be completed by late August or early September.

Cooper also touched on several changes made in state law and several changes being proposed that effect public employees’ contracts. He said there is pending legislation that would require public employees, which includes government workers, police officers, firefighters and teachers, to kick in 20 percent of health care costs.

Other pending – or newly implemented — legislation would end minimum staffing requirements, allow cities to more easily go into joint service agreements and eliminate retro payments when contracts run out and a new one is agreed on.

We’ll end here for now, and pick up on part two next week. Next up: overgrown grass (no, not that kind), speeders, ice cream trucks, hot tubs, parking meters, fireworks and displaying the American flag – or the lack there of.

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