By Charles Sercombe
On Tuesday, Nov. 9, the City Council held its regular council meeting. Councilmember Shahab Ahmed was absent. The meeting lasted for two hours at which point the council went into a closed session to discuss pending litigation. After about 40 minutes in closed session, the council returned to pass a resolution authorizing the city manager to send a letter to the state Treasury Department.
Special note: We received calls on Wednesday, the morning after Tuesday’s meeting, wondering why the cable TV version of the meeting was a recording of a previous meeting in which Councilmember Ahmed was present. Ah, it’s a conspiracy, said some, to protect Ahmed.
Not so, said City Clerk Ed Norris. He said there was an electrical outage that caused the machine that airs the meeting to revert to playing a previous meeting. “It’s my fault,” Norris said.
So, upshot is, sadly for those insisting on a conspiracy in City Hall, there’s nothing there. However, that won’t stop the whispers.
You could say that the first two-thirds of the meeting was the calm before the storm – and what a storm it was. But more on that later.
Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole started the meeting with a rundown of past grants and programs awarded to Hamtramck “despite the really bad times” the state’s economy is in. A good portion of those grants, it should be noted, were from stimulus money from the federal government – and that tidbit is for you “Tea Partiers” out there.
A public hearing was held on whether to adopt a local ordinance that would treat second-hand stores the same as pawn shops, meaning they would be required to keep track of who sold items.
Robert Zwolak was the only one to speak on the issue, saying it will “complicate” local stores with paperwork.
He also said the ordinance needs to be expanded to cover public health issues, namely bedbugs. Councilmember Stackpoole later said that her resale shop, Recycled Treasurers, has not had one instance of bedbugs in the store’s items.
(Editor’s note: Zwolak has raised this issue during past discussions of the proposed ordinance, much to the apparent annoyance of Stackpoole. Bob, guy, what’s with the veiled smears on Recycled Treasurers? As far as we know, there have been no reported cases of bedbug infestation in town.)
A lengthy discussion ensued on the ordinance, which was proposed by Councilmember Cathie Gordon. Councilmember Tom Jankowski questioned the need for adopting a local ordinance since there is already a state law covering the issue.
He said adopting a local law might prompt local second-hand shops to move out of the city. Councilmember Stackpoole said that although she supports passing a local law in order to keep fines and penalties local (as opposed to handing them over to the state), she thinks the law is “redundant.”
Gordon said that if Hamtramck police officers are going to enforce the state law, “we ought to reap the benefits of that.”
Councilmember Mohamed Hassan said despite talking about this issue for quite awhile, police officers are not enforcing the state law.
Councilmember Jankowski said the benefits of having a local version of the law isn’t so much about collecting additional revenue from fines, it’s about “quality of life.” And by that, he said, if there is a store known to traffic stolen goods, the police department needs to crack down on it.
Gordon said she still does not understand opposition to having a local law and be able to “reap the benefits.”
In the vote to adopt a local law, only Gordon and Stackpoole voted in favor of it. That ended weeks and hours of discussion on this issue.
Looking to save money any which way they can, Councilmember Gordon suggested looking into whether the city can be reimbursed for its legal costs to work out a deal with the former Shadow Bar. The bar had been the scene of numerous robberies, assaults and finally a murder.
The city threatened to pressure the state to close down the bar, but the bar owners agreed to change its format from an urban contemporary to being a gay bar. (Editor’s note: Put on your decoder ring everyone. What they agreed to was they will no longer cater strictly to African-Americans and instead will now be gay orientated.)
In a discussion about city code inspectors, Councilmember Hassan asked for copies of each inspector’s state license. He had questioned whether all of the inspectors were properly certified.
In an effort to avoid payless paydays for the next two months, the council agreed to transfer $2 million from its budget stabilization fund to the general fund.
Councilmember Gordon asked the city manager how much time this would buy the city before it has no cash on hand to pay bills or salaries.
City Manager Bill Cooper answered tersely: “January 31, 2011.”
The issue of medical marijuana was rolled up and passed around again. Instead of agreeing to just stop talking about whether to pass an ordinance regulating where commercially-certified growers can grow the plant, the council agreed to put the whole issue into a stoned-like silence, more commonly known as a “moratorium.”
City Manager Cooper said the city needs to wait for state legislators to tinker and “clarify” the law before the city puts its regulations together. (Or as Bob Dylan would sing: “Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end. Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again.”)
This next issue kind of crept up and went away under a fog of smoke (Editor’s note: enough already). Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko suggested – and the council agreed to – that city funds being held in Peoples State Bank be transferred to either Huntington Bank or PNC Bank.
Nazarko said only one bank will be chosen as soon as details are available about rates.
He did not say why the transfer is needed. However, outside of the Council Chambers he conceded there is concern about the financial health of Peoples State Bank and how much longer it will remain open. He said the city is transferring out $11 million.
(Editor’s note: According to financial news wire services, Peoples Bank is considered “critically underfunded.”)
In yet another apparent case of councilmembers looking at all possible revenue streams and how money is spent, Councilmember Jankowski asked for a list of all expenses and income for the Police Department’s drug forfeiture fund, the 911 fund and money brought in under the traffic patrol program.
He asked for all that information to be compiled within two weeks.
City Manager Cooper noted that the traffic patrol program has collected $900,000 from tickets out of $1.4 million worth of fines levied against motorists.
This is where the council began to hack away at the budget and requested a ton of financial information.
Councilmember Stackpoole asked for a cost-analysis of merging the fire and police departments into one department and the savings the city would receive to contract out those services.
City Manager said it could be six to eight months before he has those figures, which prompted Councilmember Jankowski to ask what the city will do come Feb. 1 when there is no cash on hand to pay salaries.
Cooper said he’s only looked at the “concept” of contracting out public safety services and that getting specific cost savings projections would require meeting with other cities.
Stackpoole stressed that talks need to begin on merging services.
Councilmember Gordon jumped into the discussion by proposing the elimination of all non-emergency overtime. The council agreed. Later, however, Hillary Cherry, a resident, asked if that includes the Police Department’s traffic patrol program.
A silence fell over the council, but City Manager Cooper acknowledged that part of the patrol program is conducted on non-emergency overtime. After the council took a recess before going into a closed session, Gordon told The Review it was not her intention to include the traffic patrol program.
“Kind of a gotcha there,” a Review reporter said to Gordon as she walked outside of City Hall for a cigarette break.
Gordon’s response: “That’s the story of my life.”
Back to the budget knife. Councilmember Jankowski received support to eliminate city vehicles from being used for personal use.
Councilmember Hassan motioned to eliminate all non-essential expenditures. Councilmember Stackpoole elaborated on that, saying no trees should be cut unless they pose an immediate danger of falling down.
Cooper pointed out that some services, such as tree cutting, are paid by grants.
Now, here comes that aforementioned storm. Councilmember Gordon asked for each department to draw up a 20 percent budget cut.
Jankowski said budget cuts will likely have to include laying off staffmembers.
Stackpoole asked Cooper to draw up what the savings would be for the city to force a new health insurance plan with employees.
Jankowski said he recently learned that although department heads were forced to take a 5 percent pay cut, they have been allowed to take a paid day off to compensate for that loss in income. He called for ending that practice and requiring department heads to work a 40-hour week.
The council agreed.
And now cue up Mr. Bob Dylan:
“Well, they’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone ya just a-like they said they would
They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to go home
Then they’ll stone ya when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned”
From “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”