By Charles Sercombe
Last Friday, the city council held a special meeting to consider hiring Hamtramck’s former Director of Community & Economic Development, Eric Tungate, as Acting City Manager.
However, there were not enough councilmembers present to conduct business. Councilmembers Cathie Gordon, Anam Miah and Robert Zwolak were absent. Councilmember Abdul Algazali arrived 30 minutes late, saying he thought the meeting was at 7 p.m. instead of 6:30 p.m.
Although no official business could be conducted, Mayor Karen Majewski opened up the floor to those attending the meeting, which consisted of police officers, firefighters and several members of the public. Councilmembers Mohammed Hassan and Tom Jankowski were also present.
Here are some of the highlights of the meeting:
Firefighter Bill Diamond asked who brought Tungate forth as a candidate for city manager. Councilmember Jankowski said he did, and Mayor Majewski said she is in “full support.”
Tungate was also in attendance, and he talked a little about his background. He said he “grew up here” in Hamtramck, although not literally. Tungate’s first experience in government was in Hamtramck, and he subsequently went to work for Detroit and Wayne County. He is laid off from his last position with the county.
He was with Hamtramck from 2005-2007. “It got me started in a good path,” he said.
Looking at a board that Cooper had drawn up to illustrate the city’s declining revenues, Tungate said: “I’m looking at it in fright.”
If hired, Tungate said he can guarantee one thing: “We’re going to work our butts off every single day.”
He’s 36 years old, and said he “loves public service. My attitude is contagious.”
Tungate said he “may not solve every problem in the first 30 days, but we’re going to give it a shot.”
He also said he’s not going into this job as a “money grab. This is an opportunity to turn a city around.”
Considering that there are a number of cities throughout the state that are in financial trouble, Hamtramck, he said, can become “an example of what to do.”
Bill Meyer, a resident who has been active in a number of local organizations and social causes, asked Tungate what solution he has for Hamtramck’s financial crisis. Tungate said it would be “unethical” for him to say.
That comment caused some confusion.
Tungate said he would be in contact with state officials, and in fact has already had discussions.
“Where there is a will, there is a way,” he said.
Tungate said he would create short-term, mid-term and long-term plans, or as he called it, “an action plan.”
Mayor Majewski elaborated on that point, saying the plan would be a “multi-pronged approach.” She said officials need to “recreate the fabric of the community,” which includes public safety, code enforcement and other elements.
Tungate elaborated on the mayor’s comment, saying city leaders need to “bring those pieces together” and it will require “out of the box thinking.”
Roberta Olko questioned whether Tungate will bolt from Hamtramck if he is offered a job with Detroit. Tungate said he’s not going back to Detroit, and that “I’m absolutely confident we can do this. We need to engage people.”
Tungate said he lives in downtown Detroit. He said “little things” also need to get done: cut trees when needed, repair cracked sidewalks and bring in economic development. As for those empty building, Tungate said they need to be “repurposed.”
Olko asked Tungate if he would get rid of “cloudy issues,” such as some questionable contracts and things that are not “transparent to the city.”
Tungate said officials will have to “cut our way to prosperity.”
“We can do this where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Councilmember Jankowski conceded that Tungate is not qualified to hold the job, according the requirements set by the city charter. But, he said, Tungate can fill the role for a little while to “set the course.”
Jankowski asked Tungate to talk about how he would “set the ship straight.”
Tungate: “While I am here, I’m going to bust my butt every day.” The first thing he has to do, he said, is deal with the “payroll disaster.”
Tungate also stressed again that he has a lot of connections statewide to tap into.
Jankowski related that he had a buddy who was seeking a military contract, and that he contacted Tungate for assistance. The very next day, Jankowski said, his buddy was on the phone with a colonel.
Mayor Majewski noted that although Tungate left the city to “spread his wings and fly,” he always kept in contact and was concerned about Hamtramck. She said that has impressed her.
Bill Meyer said the job should be bid out, and that filling the role needs to go through the democratic process.
Meyer also said he’s troubled with the political alliances that form in the government, with certain councilmembers voting together.
He said the city needs to go to the Michigan Municipal League for help in filling the role.
Mayor Majewski, who is president of the MML, said there is no time to do a search.
“We have someone to literally step in tomorrow,” she said in reference to Tungate.
Susan Dunn said she was concerned about rushing Tungate in.
“We’ve seen people slip in through the backdoor,” she said. “We just want the city back on track.”
She also added that there is “not a lot public trust.”
Dunn also described former City Manager Bill Cooper as a “thug.”
As for the firing of Cooper, Councilmember Jankowski, who had been a constant critic of Cooper’s, he said it wasn’t a “kneejerk” decision.
Jankowski said that on Paczki Day, Tungate told him he wanted to be city manager of Hamtramck. He said he told Tungate that he was not qualified. He said that there has been a lack of leadership in the city, and that has “skewered the whole culture.”
Susan Dunn wasn’t buying it. “I’m sorry TJ but you’ve been steering the ship for the last three years.”
Jankowski said no one can micro-manage the city manager, but the council can “set policy.” However, he said, the city had a “rogue manager who defied that.”
“I just want someone taking care to this place,” Jankowski said.
Dunn said “it’s like the butler took over the mansion.”
Roberta Olko lashed out at City Attorney James Allen, who was fired by Cooper the day before Cooper was fired by the council. Allen’s departure, she said, “can’t be soon enough.”
Mayor Majewski talked a bit on her reason for firing Cooper, although she prefaced her comments by saying it’s “not wise to say out loud” her reasons. (It’s believed that Cooper will end up suing the city for not having a legitimate reason for let him go.)
Majewski said that she had “stood in his (Cooper’s) defense in the past, but over the course of the last nine months, I just saw inertia. I didn’t see the action that was needed to be happening.”
“I gave him (Cooper) the benefit of the doubt longer than you guys did,” she added.
Tungate talked briefly on Hamtramck’s rough and tumble politics. He said that as far as anyone thinking the city is too political, “Folks, this is nothing. You’re normal.”
Councilmember Hassan said it seemed to him that every time he came to city hall, Cooper was outside smoking, or somewhere eating. He also criticized Cooper for giving the police officers’ unions what they wanted in a previous contract agreement.
Hillary Cherry, who runs a blog on the city called hamtramckstar.com, insisted that according to the city charter, Tungate cannot be hired. City Attorney James Allen said that’s not correct, and that Cherry needs to read the entire paragraph she referred to in the charter.
Mayor Majewski said that the charter allows for “equivalent” experience for someone to fill the city manager’s job.
She also said that state officials are preparing to do an informal review of the city’s finances. She said someone from the state will be at Tuesday’s council meeting to make a presentation.
Jankowski said the city will have to get a loan to continue operations. He said it’s a matter of how much.
Tungate said a loan is a “short-term fix,” and that city needs to make “structural” change. He noted that the city went from a yearly revenue of $18 million to $10 million.
Councilmember Algazali said he wants to pay whoever comes in as city manager $60,000 a year (the present salary is over $100,000).
As for asking the public to support a public safety tax, Algazali said police officers and firefighters will have to first agree to contract concessions.