What is our City Council up to these days? We have the highlights of the latest council meeting.
By Charles Sercombe
The city council met on Jan. 10 with only Mayor Karen Majewski absent. The meeting ran for two hours.
Councilmember Abdul Algazali took over chairing the meeting until the council agreed on a mayor pro tem to be the second in charge of running meetings.
As it turned out, Algazali was chosen, but it took a long time before council came to that agreement.
First things first, though.
State Sen. Bert Johnson gave a brief overview of the last year in the state capital. He characterized the year, at least for Democrats, as being “rough.” He also said cities took a “huge hit” in cuts to state revenue sharing.
Democratic lawmakers, he said, “have been fighting that mindset” to reduce financial aid to cities, the low-income and children.
“We saw a lot of folks put on the chopping block,” he said.
He urged residents to “petition your government” and let lawmakers know you are upset with cuts to public services.
Councilmember Cathie Gordon asked Johnson what the plan is to help low-income cities. Johnson said it’s likely that Detroit will be taken over by an emergency financial manager, but he doubts the state has the resources to take over many cities in the state.
Instead, he said, it’s likely the state will empower local governments to make the changes they need to balance their budgets.
“We’re in a quandary like we’ve never seen before,” Johnson said of the challenges facing communities.
As for emergency financial managers, Johnson pointed out that no manager has been successful in financially turning around a community. He said Highland Park has been under the control of an EFM for several years and is still not fiscally sound.
He said those communities that have turned around did so because of local officials in charge.
As for the possibility that he will succeed in unseating John Conyers in Congress, Johnson said Hamtramck will always remain special to him.
“This is the most diverse region in the state,” he said.
From the public, Jon Bondra, the vice president of the police officers’ union, asked why the council forced police officers to pay thousands of dollars for health insurance.
He urged the council to vote “yes” in overturning the council’s previous resolution forcing officers to pay for a costly health insurance program.
Later in the meeting the council took up the issue. The vote to rescind council’s previous resolution failed in a 3-3 split vote (Councilmembers Cathie Gordon, Robert Zwolak and Anam Miah voted in favor of overturning the requirement).
Councilmember Zwolak said that if he had been on council when the vote was taken (on Dec. 27), he would have voted against forcing officers to pay for practically all of their health insurance.
He said it was unfair to force this deal on only one group of city employees, and that it was the result of a “failure” to negotiate.
“This is not going to work when we have public safety at stake,” Zwolak said.
Zwolak also said he is concerned about public safety in Hamtramck when there is a call by some community activists for civil disobedience in Detroit. He said the city needs to go back to the negotiation table with the police officers.
(Editor’s note: Bob, stop being an alarmist. This isn’t 1967. It wasn’t a call for a riot to take place.)
Councilmember Tom Jankowski said the officers’ union has failed to make concessions. He also pointed out that officers made $500,000 from working overtime.
(Editor’s note: It was later pointed out that much of that overtime was earned on the city’s traffic patrol program, which also brought in $800,000 in fines.)
Jankowski says he has nothing against officers, but noted the union has “failed to act in the best interests of the city.”
Councilmember Anam Miah said the city can’t “burn one department with a sledge hammer.”
(Editor’s note: Warning, mixed metaphor.)
He said the city had one health plan that the officers’ union agreed to on the negotiation table, but the city abruptly pulled it away.
Miah said the city needs to negotiate in good faith.
Councilmember Mohammed Hassan said the city simply doesn’t have money to cover health insurance costs. He said if the city continues to spend money it doesn’t have it will end up like Highland Park, which he added can’t afford to pay for street lights.
Councilmember Gordon said there was a previous health insurance plan that the firefighters also agreed to that would have saved the city another $200,000.
“I question the motives here” Gordon said in regard to some of her colleagues who voted for the more costly insurance plan.
Councilmember Jankowski noted that the city’s hands are tied because a new state law puts a cap on how much the city can contribute to public employees’ benefits.
He said if the officers’ health insurance plan is rescinded, it would mean the city is violating state law, which he said could lead to a loss of state revenue.
Mayor Pro Tem Algazali said the council has to keep the city financially solvent. He reminded his colleagues they have to vote for what’s in the best interest of residents.
Times are tough, he noted, and many people are out of work.
The vote to rescind the council’s resolution on the officers’ new health insurance plan failed in a 3-3 split. Councilmembers Miah, Zwolak and Gordon voted in favor of rescinding the vote, while Councilmembers Hassan, Jankowski and Algazali voted against it.
And now, back to how the council came to choose a mayor pro tem. It wasn’t pretty, but then again, very little in government is.
The selection process began with Councilmember Jankowski, who was nominated by Councilmember Hassan. Hassan said of Jankowski: “I know he’s very smart.”
And he’s “studious.”
Speaking on behalf of himself, Jankowski said he has 16 years experience in one position or another in city government, and that he has served for a variety of officials.
“All in all, I’m familiar with how things work,” Jankowski said.
Councilmember Zwolak said that, because the mayor is frequently busy with work or with being president of the Michigan Municipal League, the position of mayor pro tem is important. He said the councilmember selected for this position has to be ready “24/7” to fill in for the mayor.
Zwolak said there are only two councilmembers who can do that.
(Editor’s note: Presumably Zwolak doesn’t think it’s Jankowski.)
In the vote to appoint Jankowski, the motion failed in a 3-3 tie. Those in favor were: Jankowski, Hassan and Algazali. Those opposed were Gordon, Miah and (surprise!) Zwolak.
Next up was Councilmember Gordon.
Speaking for herself, Gordon said she’s not after a title, but mentioned it is indeed about being available for service.
Zwolak said Gordon indeed has the time and the communication skills needed for the job.
Her nomination failed in another 3-3 split vote, with those voting in favor being: Miah, Zwolak and Gordon. Those voting against were: Hassan, Jankowski and Algazali.
Zwolak’s nomination was considered, with Zwolak speaking for himself and basically saying he has all the qualifications needed to do the job (surprise!).
Gordon pointed out that Zwolak has held a “litany” of public service jobs for the city. She also noted that Zwolak is a lifelong resident (not quite true, he lived out of state for a little while, driving a taxi).
And by lifelong resident, Gordon said, she meant that’s a “long time Bob.”
(Editor’s note: Hmmmm … is Gordon suggesting Zwolak is, you know, “old”?)
Hassan said that if Zwolak has so much experience, why is the city broke? He added that having enough time to do the job is not as important as being able to balance the budget.
Zwolak’s nomination failed in yet another 3-3 tie, with those voting in favor being Miah, Zwolak and Gordon.
Those opposed were Jankowski, Algazali and Hassan.
With that, Hassan nominated Algazali.
Zwolak asked Algazali to talk about why he thinks he is qualified for the job. Algazali said he would “gladly” talk. He said he has lived in the city all his life and has no agenda other than to “serve Hamtramck.”
Gordon pointedly asked Algazali exactly how he has served the city and what activities he has participated in.
Algazali called that question a personal attack. Gordon said Algazali is hardly available, has not served on city commissions and doesn’t know the rules in conducting a meeting.
Jankowski said too much has been made out over who has the time to take on the job.
Algazali got the job, with Miah, Algazali, Hassan and Jankowski voting in favor, and Zwolak and Gordon voting in opposition.
Here’s to a successful 2012!