By Charles Sercombe
For those of you who have lived in Hamtramck for several years, you might remember newly-appointed Emergency Manager Cathy Square.
Back in 2003, she came to work here as the Director of Public Works under former Emergency Manager Lou Schimmel. During those first days on the job she drove around town to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and the one thing that jumped out was the amount of loose garbage in the alleys and overflowing garbage cans.
“It’s expensive to allow unlimited garbage to be picked up,” she reminisced with The Review in an interview on Monday, the first day on the job in her new role.
Not only was it unsightly, it had contributed to a citywide rodent infestation. There is one thing rats love, and that’s plenty of easy to get at food.
So, she urged Schimmel to purchase the blue garbage containers you see around town for every residence to combat both problems.
And presto, it worked wonders.
“Now you don’t have a rodent problem at all,” Square said.
It’s that same matter-of-factness and by the textbook approach Square will use to assess the city’s financial problem and figure out what steps to take next.
First up, she said, is a look at all contracts and an examination of the structure of the city administration.
There are no employees on the chopping block at this point, but Square said any cuts to staff will be based solely on whether the given position is needed and is giving taxpayers’ “their bang for the buck.”
By Monday, Square, 51 and of Detroit, had already met with several department heads.
“We talked about getting organized,” she said. “If we can all get on the same bus, we can do it.”
Asked how long it might take, Square didn’t hesitate to say that she has just a one-year contract.
“I hope to be out of here before that,” she said.
One thing working in her favor was that elected officials actually asked, several times, for the state to appoint an emergency manager. Elected officials said that their hands were tied in restructuring labor contracts and that what was needed is someone with the power to rip up contracts.
That, indeed, is the authority that Square has.
She has said in a prior media interview that it makes sense to merge services with other government agencies.
That’s just what Lou Schimmel has done in Pontiac, where he has been the emergency manager for the past year or so. Square was working under him there as well, in a number of roles.
Square may have the authority to tear up contracts, but that doesn’t mean she can rule with an iron fist. The city council can also propose alternatives to her plans and ultimately it’s a state board that will make the final call.
The new emergency manager law was written that way, Square said, to “dispel the dictatorship” view that some critics of the law perceive it as.
And for those in the know of things, Hamtramck resident Joe Sobota, who is also working with Schimmel, won’t be coming to help out in Hamtramck, at least any time soon, Square said.
Square has nothing but praise for Sobota and said she will use him as a “resource.”
According to the new emergency law, Square is required to hold a town hall meeting. She said no date has been set yet but stressed there will be an open meeting for the public.
But don’t expect her to attend city council meetings, she said.
“I am not the city manager,” she said of her role.
And yes, at this point Acting City Manager Kyle Tertzag and his assistant, Kathy Angerer, are still on the job.
Talking with Square about the city is hearing non-stop praise about the community, the businesses and the people.
Her favorite part about the city?
“I love the gardens, and Hamtramck has the best porches,” she said.