Editor’s Note: According to city hall sources, Public Works Director Steve Shaya has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into possible ethics and income tax violations.
By Charles Sercombe
For the past three years Platinum Landscaping, Inc. has earned about $3million maintaining city lots, cutting trees and plowing snow for the city.
For most of that time the person issuing work orders and reviewing invoices of work completed by the company was Steve Shaya, the Director of Public Works.
During that time there had been rumors that Shaya and the owner of Platinum, Omar Nakash, were related.
Now, according to Emergency Manager Cathy Square, Shaya admitted to her that he is Nakash’s uncle.
Square said that Shaya called her about two weeks ago saying, “Boss, I just want you to know I’m Omar’s uncle.”
Square said Shaya told her this because he thought The Review was about to print an “expose” on him.
That admission prompted Square to cancel a pending contract with Platinum to continue its services to the city. She is now seeking new bid proposals for the work, but this time with the stipulation that bidders have to say if they are related to anyone employed by the city.
Bids for the job are due Aug. 5.
As for Shaya, Square said she does not think he violated the city’s ethics law or city charter.
The city’s ethics ordinance, adopted in 2008 after several years of city officials discussing and debating it, does not mention anything about city employees or appointees supervising relatives.
However, in Section 6-16 (b) of the city charter it says “no employee of the city may be supervised by a relative.”
But the key word in this section is “employee” and whether a city contractor can be defined as an employee.
Square said, “I don’t think so.”
She also said that she is not seeking a legal opinion on the matter from the city attorney.
As for whether Shaya violated the spirit of the law, Square said: “The city should not have awarded that contract.”
Square added that “there are no grounds for dismissal” of Shaya in this matter.
Shaya has a pending Whistle Blower’s lawsuit filed against the city and several city employees and past city managers.
Shaya says in his lawsuit that he was subjected to derogatory names and was the subject of a police accusation that he committed a hit-and-run accident in retaliation for saying a Hamtramck officer was privately operating a tow service for the police department. Shaya describes himself as being a Chaldean-American.
The Review asked Square about a month ago whether she had ever asked Shaya if he was related to Nakash. Square dismissed the question, saying: “Everyone in city hall is related.”
Hamtramck, indeed, has a long history of family members working side-by-side in the employment of the city.
Shaya’s relationship with the city began years ago when Lou Schimmel was the Emergency Financial Manager of the city. During the early 2000s Shaya was hired as the head of the Department of Public Works but was suspended after it came to light that he was a convicted felon and had not informed the city of that.
Shaya had also been accused of using DPW workers to clean up his rental dwelling on city time.
Schimmel let Shaya go after eliminating his position. Square was hired by Schimmel to basically do the job Shaya was fired from.
After city management was returned to the city, Shaya was hired as a consultant to run the Public Works Department upon the recommendation of then-City Manager William Cooper.
There was concern by some city councilmembers at the time, mostly by Tom Jankowski, that Shaya was an employee of Platinum Landscaping, which at that time was working for the city.
Shaya was hired under the condition that he quit Platinum Landscaping. Cooper told the council that he would oversee all bills submitted by Platinum.
Mayor Karen Majewski has been critical on her Facebook page of the money paid to Platinum Landscaping, especially for the snow plowing and street salting service of this past winter.
She said she did not want to comment in detail about the matter because of Shaya’s lawsuit, but she wants to the city attorney to look into whether he committed an ethics violation.
As for finding out about Shaya’s relationship with the owner of Platinum, she said: “I’m not surprised.”
She declined to elaborate.
City Councilmember Robert Zwolak, who had supported the hiring of Platinum and Shaya, said he was “disappointed” to find out about Shaya’s relationship with Nakash.
“I did my best to defend Steve (Shaya) and Omar (Nakash), and this puts me in a difficult situation,” he said.
Zwolak said he credits Square for taking a stance on the long tradition of family members getting jobs with the city.
“Finally, the culture is being changed,” he said.