Election 2017: Candidates talk about issues facing the city

By Charles Sercombe
This is now week four of The Review’s candidate survey.
On Aug. 8 Hamtramck voters will be going to the polls to vote for candidates for mayor and city council.
This is the primary election, and the candidates who survive that first round will square off in the November General Election.
The Review mailed each candidate a survey of questions about some of the issues facing the city.
The Review asked for candidates to respond by June 30, but several of the candidates have not returned the survey.
This week, we present Asm “Kamal” Rahman, who is running for mayor, and council candidate Ian Perrotta, who is an incumbent.

kamal rahman
NAME: Asm “Kamal” Rahman
Education: I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Finance from Walsh College in 1994 and 2004, respectively. Before that, I attended Hamtramck High School and Wayne County Community College.
Employment: I have worked with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for over two decades. I started at DWSD as Accountant in 1996, and was promoted to Senior Accountant the following year. In 2002, I was again promoted to Customer Operations Specialist, and to Manager in CIS Administration in 2005. Since 2015 I have worked as Project Manager/Applications Analyst. My two decades of successful employment and increasing levels of responsibility at DWSD demonstrate a high aptitude for working with municipal systems, finance, and resource distribution, along with the confidence and trust of my employers.
Experience in government/ municipal affairs: I manage the billing system for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. As mayor, I would use this expertise to improve the accuracy of Hamtramck’s water bill metering. My skills would also allow me to recognize and capitalize on state level resources available for Hamtramck. This includes money set aside by the Great Lakes Water Authority for low-income residential assistance.
I am involved with various community groups and initiatives, especially those concerning human rights and minority representation. I served on the Board of Directors for the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) from 2009-2015. I have been a on the board of the Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (BAPAC) since 2005. I served as President of Hamtramck’s NAACP from 2009-10. I received a “Changemaker Award” from South Asian Americans Leading Together in 2009. SAALT is a civil rights organization based in Washington DC.

As a challenger or incumbent, explain why you are running for office:
Hamtramck has been under the state control twice in the past 16 years because of financial mismanagement. We must demonstrate competency in self-governance to maintain our autonomy. My successful background in municipal finance would provide me with the skills needed to stabilize the city.
My 21 years of experience working with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department/Great Lakes Water Authority affords me a wealth of expertise from which to improve Hamtramck’s water and sanitary system issues.
What are the city’s top three challenges, as you see it? How would you solve/meet these challenges?
One of my top priorities as mayor would be to ensure the financial stability of the city. This would allow us to maintain our autonomy, avoid state oversight, and flourish as a city.
I would promote the financial stability of Hamtramck by promoting a flourishing businesses district and, reducing beauracracy that hinders growth. As importantly, I would be fostering clear communication between different levels of government, and promoting transparency between the elected officials and administration. I would take measures to ensure the competency of any staff hired for the city.
Finally, I would develop programs to improve the training of city employees and officials. Through these means, we as a city would be empowered to make better business decisions. improve efficiency and expense of running the city, and prevent costly lawsuits.
A second main priority is water rights and equity. Many residents complained about their high water bills or estimated water bills. As mayor, I would seek a full water rate audit to ensure that the residents are charged the proper rate.
Along with this, I would introduce the immediate water assistance program for qualified households. I have implemented similar program for the City of Detroit. Based on this experience, I can make an educated estimate that at least 70-80% of Hamtramck’s resident may qualify for this program.
This would entail a $25 monthly billing reduction in the form of a credit or up to $1.2 Million per year for all qualified residents. And, the program would ensure payment toward past due bills up to $750. My expertise working at the municipal level would allow me to facilitate the implementation of this program, as well as to recognize other opportunities for state and national level resources.
A third major priority would be to improve business districts. As mayor, I will support policies that making it easier to open businesses by reducing bureaucracy and by updating outdated codes.
The city is transitioning back to full local control. What will you do to facilitate this transition if elected?
Hamtramck is a unique city, and we value our independence and autonomy. The transition back to full local control presents a welcome and exciting challenge. To meet the demands of this transition, a mayor with a strong background in finance is a must.
As mayor, I would use the many years of experience I have garnered working for the public sector to promote consistency, transparency, and creative thinking about perennial problems. I would provide other city officials with additional training to foster a knowledgeable and capable council.
I would promote education about the past to make sure that officials and city residents understand the factors that led to the crisis and loss of independence in the first place.
What will you do to prevent the city from falling into another financial crisis?

As discussed above, we must fully understand the past in order to map out a different future. As mayor, I will promote education and training programs to ensure that city officials, employees, and residents are empowered to make the best decisions.
I would also foster clear communication and transparency between elected officials and the administration. This will help the city improve efficiency and prevent costly lawsuits.
Talk about the city’s budget. Do you think there should be some changes to where money is spent or changes to any department or service?
We should promote better business environments and a cleaner city. Bringing in grants that will help our businesses, offer incentives to attract manufacturing jobs. We must also ensure that Police and Fire service is protected and staffed adequately to ensure safety and security.
For those of you seeking to become the mayor, what do you envision your role as, besides what is in the city charter?
Mayor must understand and respect the community, work with various ethnic groups to bridge the gaps. Mayor must work with regional governments to improve the city.
A mayor will think outside the box and bring changes necessary to prepare the city to take advantage of the economic resurgence taking place in Detroit and the vicinity.

Also for those running for mayor, what is your vision of the city, and how would you achieve your goals?
A city that will continue to welcome everyone to the city like it has been doing for over a century. We need to have more activities and modern playground for our children. Some part of the city children have nothing to do other than playing on the dusty street.
Businesses are the heart and soul of any town. Our business district need to expand to include Caniff and Conant. These 2 streets has seen a surge in investment and new stores popping up.
One way to revitalize Joseph Campeau district is to increase foot traffic by opening all stores for business. For this we need to work with the owners of these stores to see what need to be done to get these store fronts opened.
Many people complain that the business codes are too outdated and does not reflect the need of the current business demands. We must update these codes to facilitate more openings.


ian perrotta
NAME: Ian Perrotta

Education: Bachelor of Arts degrees in English Writing and Political Science (summa cum laude); Rising 2L at Wayne State Law School (recipient of academic full tuition Governor’s Scholarship and Charles H. Gershenson Trust Scholarship, awarded to students with high credentials and outstanding character).

Employment: Owner of Trixie’s Bar in Hamtramck; Copy Editor for The Hamtramck Review; Rental Property Owner/Manager.

Experience in government/municipal affairs:
I am currently on the Hamtramck City Council and am a Level One graduate of the Michigan Municipal League’s Elected Officials Academy. I am also on the board of Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, an organization I co-founded to restore the historic grandstands in Veterans Park which was successful in placing the site on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 and that is currently in the process of raising funds towards the stadium’s rehabilitation.
Additionally, I served as the Neighborhood Restoration and Economic Development Chair for the Hamtramck Weed and Seed program for a few years.

As a challenger or incumbent, explain why you are running for office:
I am running for office because doing so is consistent with the way I have always tried to serve my community to the best of my ability. As a child I would help out my mom with service projects for soldiers when my dad was in the Army. In high school I received a distinguished service award for time spent volunteering. And in college I joined the town’s volunteer fire department. All of this was because it has always been instilled in me that one of the greatest things you can do with your time is to help others.
Moreover, I have the knowledge, experience, and perspective to successfully represent the residents of Hamtramck. As a copy editor I have read every single article printed in The Hamtramck Review since the summer of 2009. This gives me a deep and fundamental understanding of where the city has been, where it is, and where it’s going.
As a City Councilman I have never missed a meeting and have attended every single work session since taking office in October of 2015. And as a home and business owner I can balance the residential and commercial needs of the community in relation to the realities of operating a city government, ensuring that all sides are considered fairly when making decisions.

What are the city’s top three challenges, as you see it?
First and foremost, the biggest issue is a shortfall in funding. The financial crash of the late 2000s significantly lowered property values throughout the state, and while they have since somewhat recovered, because of restrictions on how much property taxes can increase each year taxes are not able to accurately reflect current property values. Coupled with cuts in state revenue sharing, Hamtramck – like many other communities in Michigan – faces a huge problem in funding pensions and other obligations.
The second challenge the city faces is the overstepping of duties by council. The City of Hamtramck is like a business, and City Council is the Board of Directors, the City Manager is the CEO, and department heads are department managers.
The job of City Council is not to direct day-to-day operations, but rather to make sure the business is operating in the best interests of its shareholders, who in this case are residents of the city. Because we are elected, we do not have to have the necessary education, training, and credentials that department heads and the City Manager have. This means that when it comes to running the city, we should allow those who have the knowledge and skills to do their jobs, and only intervene when residents feel that the city is not working in their best interests.
Unfortunately, we have seen too much interference of the day-to-day operations by members of council, and it has caused problems in City Hall. This interference, coupled with uncertainty about the future, has resulted in departmental vacancies and other chaos in City Hall that was completely avoidable and which has stalled the progress that was being made.
The city’s third biggest challenge is getting on one page in a cohesive narrative between all communities. Right now we have a very diverse but fragmented city, and many of the groups don’t really mix.
If people look at issues through the lens of how they affect their particular population they sometimes aren’t able to see the big picture. But if everyone looks at the issues as Hamtramckans then I believe we will recognize that there are more similarities than differences between the many groups in Hamtramck, and that will lead to solving some of the problems that have plagued the city for years.
How would you solve/meet these challenges?
The first challenge is not one that can be solved without significant legislative changes and is not necessarily one that can be solved through local government. However, local elected officials are on the front line of that battle, and it is up to us to understand the issue and accurately report how it affects our municipalities. This will help articulate the need for the legislative changes that can positively affect the situation, and is something I am willing and able to do.
The second challenge is something I can directly help with. As a current Councilmember I understand our role and responsibilities, and if re-elected I will gladly assist any new members with the acclimation process.
When elected officials (or anyone, really) are educated on how to do their jobs by people with experience they are able to do the job better than if they are elected without guidance. I am happy to help anyone in learning the ropes of being a responsible and productive member of City Council.
The third challenge is one I have already began working on. I have made a point of trying to include members of all groups in conversations regarding the city and how to move forward, and I have also made it a point to show those groups that their voices matter through my campaign material.
By translating my material into Arabic, Bengali, and Polish, I am trying to show that it is not just the English-speaking population that has a voice. Potholes don’t care about religion and a flooded basement is indifferent to the language in which it is cursed about.
Fortunately, I also see this problem as one that will inevitably solve itself with the passage of time. Whereas the community is currently fragmented because of the way many ethnic communities self-segregate, the younger generation of Hamtramckans seems to not have this issue.
When you go to school with people of all races, religions, and nationalities, it is inevitable that you will become friends with them. When today’s teens and young adults become tomorrow’s leaders I truly believe we will have a more cohesive and interconnected city.
The city is transitioning back to full local control. What will you do to facilitate this transition if elected?
If elected I will be responsible with the finances and respect the office. The main reason that the city went into Emergency Management was that council was not responsible with the city’s finances and its inaction ultimately led to intervention.
A secondary reason, specifically cited by the state, was the dysfunctional nature of the city council. The state was not happy with the way councilmembers interfered with the day-to-day business of City Hall, and felt that the environment created as a result was toxic. I will work to restore local control by showing that we can handle the responsibility that comes with it.
What will you do to prevent the city from falling into another financial crisis?
In order to prevent the city from falling into another financial crisis we need to implement best practices, listen to professionals, and not behave recklessly. Best practices are called that for a reason – they are methods proven time after time to be the best way to go about a task.
For instance, a best practice in hiring a city manager would be to go through a search firm, and not hand pick friends or associates because they are willing to do the bidding of others. Along that line of thought is listening to professionals.
As I mentioned earlier, just because someone is elected to city council it does not mean they are qualified to dictate the day-to-day operations of city departments. Those who have been educated and have the experience in doing those jobs are the ones who understand the issues better than elected officials, and we should take their advice to heart.
This leads to not behaving recklessly. By listening to the advice of professionals and implementing best practices, we can effectively and responsibly manage the city, and that is something I have done in the past and will do in the future.
Talk about the city’s budget. Do you think there should be some changes to where money is spent or changes to any department or service?
The budget is tight as it is but I believe it makes do with what it can. The current budget was passed by the council after we had the opportunity to provide input, and it was independently verified through an accounting firm to make sure it was one that would work.
That being said there are always ways to improve the city and its services. I think stepping up code enforcement efforts can not only be a budget-neutral proposition but also something that can have an immediate and positive effect on the community. Economic Development and City Planning are also an important aspect of growing the city, and I think spending money on these departments is something that can pay dividends in the future.
The city has had a problem in getting along with its city managers. What has been going wrong in this relationship, and how can the city avoid the constant change in management?
I believe the main problem – as I have pointed out before – is that members of council let personal problems overtake their professional responsibilities. I do not believe that the problems that some members of the council have with City Manager Katrina Powell are professionally based; rather I believe they are a result of issues that have nothing to do with good governance and legitimate problems with policy.
In the future, I think the city can avoid a constant change in management by putting personal problems aside and making decisions that are based on logic and reason and which benefit residents on the whole.
Talk about economic development. How can the city spur economic growth?
The best way to spur economic growth is to really promote the town as a place to live in and do business. The fact is that advertising works. If people are informed about the many aspects of Hamtramck that make it a viable and dynamic place to do business, I believe they will respond accordingly.
When I first ran for office in 2011 I thought it would be a good idea to promote the city with a billboard on I-75 that said “If you lived in Hamtramck you’d be home by now.”
I think many people are aware of that fact now and we don’t really have a problem finding occupants for houses anymore. Similarly, I think the same type of promotion might help expedite economic development. However, I also think economic growth is somewhat inevitable.
There has been a marked increase in businesses opening up in the city, and with Hamtramck’s proximal location to the economic activity happening in downtown and midtown I think it is only a matter of time before that activity makes its way to our city.

How can the city encourage commercial property owners to fill their retail spaces?
I think there are two main ways to motivate people to do something – carrots and sticks. By carrot I mean incentives, and stick I mean penalties. A combination of the two will probably be the best way to encourage commercial property owners to fill vacant retail spaces. Incentive-wise, I think the city can look into providing cost-neutral tax breaks that will encourage property owners to want to fill their store space.
Penalty-wise, I think the city can look into increasing the cost of having a vacant commercial space to the point where it is not economically viable to have it empty and it makes more sense to have the space filled.
Overall I think the future of the City of Hamtramck is incredibly bright. We have a perfect mix of people, place, and passion, and I truly believe that some of the issues we currently face are nothing more than growing pains.
Ultimately, I think residents of the city will be able to find common ground and move forward, and I for one am eager to be a part of the revitalization process. I live here, I work here, and I spend my time and money here, and I want nothing but the best for the city and its future.
I hope that by answering these questions I was able to shed more light on who I am and what I believe, but I encourage you to contact me if you need any more information about what has been discussed. Thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say, and I hope you will take it into consideration when it comes time to vote.


One Response to Election 2017: Candidates talk about issues facing the city

  1. Sabrena Jones Pole

    August 7, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    I have been a resident of Hamtramck for the past two years and agree with the majority of candidate Ian Perrotta view. I also appreciate the background in finance of candidate Asm “Kamal” Rahman. I work for a license builder and master plumber who service many commercial and residential property in Hamtramck. In addition, I am a small business owner who is concerned about opportunities in business, community serves, safe areas for our children and to bridge a gap in communication as well as embracing all ethnicities. I have spent time researching the cadidates running for office and was disappointed at the low turn out of those running as well as responding to the questionnaire. How can the people of the community vote responsibly when there is a lack of information from other candidates? Despite the lack, I plan to vote tomorrow and I hope many others vote too!

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