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 March 13, and all councilmembers were in attendance. The meeting ran for about two hours.
The meeting was pretty much dominated by the issue of filling the city manager’s position. The council, in a split vote that required Mayor Karen Majewski to break it, previously voted to fire City Manager Bill Cooper.
To say the least, it was an intense meeting.
The meeting had a strange start, which set the mood for the night. There was an initial disagreement during a voice vote on whether to amend the agenda to allow for the consideration of appointing Eric Tungate to the position of city manager.
There were some “no” votes said out loud when the mayor asked if there was anyone opposed, but in a roll call vote to clarify if the motion went up or down, all of a sudden everyone voted yes.
(Editor’s note: Did someone think it was Opposite Day?)
A representative from Plante & Moran, the city’s financial auditor, made a short report on the financial record keeping of the police department’s drug forfeiture fund.
Long story, short: The, uh, record keeping — or lack thereof — is/was a mess.
“We did have our challenges,” said Michelle McHale.
Here are some examples of those challenges:
The evidence room contained 10 to 20 years worth of evidence.
The auditor couldn’t track all the records of confiscated cars that were sold.
Records were incomplete on cash that was confiscated in drug arrests, and in other illegal activities. In the words of the auditors, the cash records could not be “reconciled.”
Asked if there should be a “further” investigation (Editor’s note: Criminal), McHale said that’s not necessary.
“It would not be a good use of the city’s dollars. It would not bear much fruit,” she said.
Acting Police Chief Max Garbarino said a number of procedures have since been taken to tighten up record-keeping and also make sure everything is on the up and up through annual – and spot – audits.
“We cleaned up the system,” Garbarino said.
He conceded, though, that there are more steps that need to be taken.
(Editor’s note: Garbarino has been Acting Chief for only several weeks.)
Garbarino also advised against further investigation, and, instead, the city should move forward.
(“Draw the line in the sand,” he said.)
He also noted that it will take another year or so to fully inventory and clean up the system in the drug forfeiture fund.
In a related matter, Councilmember Robert Zwolak withdrew a pending resolution for a further investigation into the matter.
Keeping in the financial theme of things, a representative from the state Treasury Department, Edward Koryzno, discussed the city’s options on staving off payless paydays, which had been warned about by former City Manager Bill Cooper.
The options, he said, are:
Borrow money from the state based on upcoming property taxes that will be collected in the summer (officially it’s called a tax anticipation note).
Or, get an advance loan from the state based on state revenue sharing money due to the city.
But before any action can be taken, Koryzno said, the city first has to clear up a deficit in its federal development fund (called a Community Development Block Grant).
Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko interjected at this point, and said he has already cleared up a deficit in the fund from a year ago.
Koryzno said that could very well be the case, but he was unaware of it.
(Editor’s note: Treasury Department, left hand meet the right hand.)
And now, it’s the public’s time to speak to the council. First up was Bill Meyer, who started off with the topics of the city manager and city finances issues.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” he said.
(R.I.P. Yogi Berra.)
And then he took a turn to say the collapse of the banking system is an attack on the working class.
And he said that the councilmembers who did not attend the special council meeting held on the Friday before “smacks of the solidarity slate.”
“Why was Cooper fired? And why was Crawford?” he asked, referring to the two former city managers of the city.
He warned the council that “we’re all going to go down if we don’t work together.”
Joan Bittner, who serves on the Downtown Development Authority, said she supports Eric Tungate for city manager.
“In my opinion he’d be a great asset to the city,” she said.
Roberta Olko talked about a proposal on the agenda by Councilmember Zwolak to sell the city’s parks. Olko questioned who would buy them.
“Nobody’s got any money,” Olko said.
She added that the suggestions being made to raise money for the city is “taking us nowhere.”
Olko asked for transparency in the firing of former City Manager Cooper and City Attorney James Allen.
(Editor’s Note: Cooper fired Allen a day before Cooper was fired.)
“Let’s start fresh,” Olko said.
Olko also claimed that Cooper attempted to take information from his city-issued computer.
Susan Dunn said she supports appointing city Treasurer Mike Wilk to the position of city manager. She said he has been a dedicated public servant to the community, and that he is willing to take the job for free.
(Editor’s note: According to Councilmember Cathie Gordon, Wilk was willing to take the job for $25,000 a year.)
Next up was Hillary Cherry, who runs a website that’s all about Hamtramck called hamtramckstar.com, who said that hiring Eric Tungate as city manager would violate the city charter because he is not qualified.
Jerry Dettloff, a former Director of Economic Development for the city, urged the council to hire Tungate as city manager.
“He has the best interest of the city,” Dettloff said.
He further added: “He (Tungate) has the qualifications to do the right job at the right time.”
And, also, it’s time to think “out of the box,” Dettloff said.
Councilmember Zwolak ripped a page out of history, and attempted to speak as a member of the public, even though he is a councilmember,
“I want an opportunity to speak before I’m cut off,” he said.
He was then promptly cut off by Mayor Majewski, who chairs the meeting.
“You have a seat right there,” she said, referring to his seat on council. “And no one is going to cut you off.”
(Editor’s note: Well, we’re going to cut off here, whether anyone likes it or not, and pick up where we left off next week.)