By Charles Sercombe
In a move that is rare on city council, a city councilmember almost faced being censured for comments he made.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilmember Anam Miah presented a resolution to censure Councilmember Ian Perrotta over what Miah alleged were “bigoted” comments made.
(Editor’s note: Ian Perrotta is a copy editor with The Review.)
However, Miah withdrew that resolution just before the meeting. After the meeting he told The Review that he had discussed the issue with Perrotta right before the meeting and that Perrotta “said he understood his mistake and would make a public apology.”
Still, the proposal and discussion it stirred up seemed to have the same effect as an actual vote on the matter.
Local media outlets covered the meeting and the public fallout.
Miah slammed Perrotta for blaming immigrants for the city’s trash problem in an interview with news radio, WWJ 950 AM.
“Councilman Perrotta’s bigoted comments relied upon and furthered harmful and hurtful stereotypes about European and Western cultural superiority over many of the immigrant cultures represented by members of this Council and the broader community,” the resolution said.
The censure did not call for any further action other than “Councilman Ian Perrotta is admonished to guard against making such biased and impertinent remarks in the future.”
Perrotta has vigorously denied he blamed immigrants for the city’s trash woes.
He has said on his Facebook page that his comments in an interview with a WWJ news reporter were taken out of context and also the report left out comments that qualified what he had to say.
The report quoted Perrotta saying the city’s trash problem “comes from the fact that some of our immigrant population comes from areas where regular trash collection and sanitation is not available, or not a priority.”
Perrotta then went on to say:
“The previous iterations of the immigrant population were more Europeans who maybe came from places that had similar methods of sanitation. The current wave of immigrants is primarily from Yemen and Bangladesh.”
After the report aired, Perrotta immediately defended his comments after some accused him of unfairly blaming immigrants.
“The statements I gave to the reporter were highly edited and taken out of context and do not reflect the true intention of what I said,” Perrotta said.
He went on to say: “I took pains to qualify my statements and point out that what I was saying was not to disparage any group in any way, and was in fact the same sentiments that were held by many of Hamtramck’s youth, several of whom – including Bengalis and Yemenis – presented at a Youth Town Hall meeting about issues that they believed impacted the city.”
As for the censure, Perrotta said on his Facebook page that it was Miah’s attempt to sway voters in the November election, where Perrotta is seeking re-election.
“… It is obviously a political move designed to take advantage of the WWJ report in an attempt to discredit me in the City Council race in an effort to consolidate power after the upcoming election.
“More egregiously, I believe this is also retaliation against me for speaking out against Councilman Miah earlier this year during the often contentious discussions centered around the city manager. Because there is an incredibly flimsy basis from which he builds his resolution against me, it can be rightfully assumed that this attempt at censure has a deeper and more personal origin. If this is the case, then Mr. Miah is using his position in a public office to settle a private score, and that is absolutely reprehensible.”
Many on Facebook came to Perrotta’s defense, including Ibrahim Aljahim, a community organizer and activist, who said:
“Please councilmembers worry about the services of the city and how to help us move forward. Don’t waste our taxpayers money on your personal agendas.”
Others, however, scolded Perrotta. Bill Meyer, a local activist, said he listened to the radio interview and didn’t think Perrotta was misquoted. Instead, he said Perrotta has a tendency to say “foolish things.”
“You’ve got foot in the mouth disease,” Meyer said.
The practice of a public body issuing a censure, according to an ethics guide published by the Michigan Municipal League, is usually reserved for when a public official violates a rule or procedure.
The city council is a member of the MML.
If an official continues to violate the public body’s rules, a censure is considered “a last resort step,” according to the guidelines.
It’s not clear if the city council has ever issued a censure in the past. But some who remember the interactions of councilmembers in the 1990s say there might have been threats of censures.
Hamtramck politics at that time were often combative, and at times even physical. The ongoing chaos eventually led to the state appointing an emergency manager to take over after the council failed to agree on a budget for two years in a row.
A new city charter followed, which placed control of the city mostly in the hands of a city manager, instead of a shared power between the mayor and the council.
The new charter greatly defused the political battles – until recently.