By Charles Sercombe
Six months down, six months to go.
Hamtramck Emergency Manager Cathy Square has just finished up the first half of her employment contract with the state, and she is now looking ahead at her last six months.
Square started work here on July 1, freshly after being appointed by the state to fix Hamtramck’s financial crisis. Her first job, she said, was to negotiate new labor contracts with the city’s four employee unions.
She delivered those contracts in December. They included salary and benefit concessions that are a milestone in the city’s history of labor negotiations.
One of the bigger concessions is that firefighters agreed that if minimum staffing per shift is not met, additional firefighters will not be called in for overtime.
Some observers questioned Square’s firefighters’ contract, which keeps the department staffed with full-timers. It was thought that the department would be restructured, possibly keeping just a core of full-timers on with police officers doubling as firefighters as needed.
Square said that’s not what she came to town to do.
“I didn’t come in to decide whether Hamtramck should have a Fire Department,” Square told The Review a few weeks ago. “I came here to get cuts.”
The cuts she got from all of the labor unions amount to $2 million, Square said.
So, with labor contracts settled, at least for the next two years, Square said she is now “boiling down the last issues.”
The second half of her yearlong-contract will focus on less attention-getting issues. Square is now looking for a city manager to hire as well as a new assessor and treasurer.
There are some internal financial controls that Square said have been lacking, which have lead to some of the reasons the city has run into financial trouble in the past.
“I’m here to identify where we dropped the ball in the past,” Square said.
Some of those deficiencies have been addressed in a recent internal audit that has been performed.
Square’s contract runs out at the end of June. Although she may be gone, there will be a state financial review board looking over the shoulders of city officials – including the city manager. If the board — officially called a “transition advisory board” – disapproves of a financial decision it has the power to reject it.
That means if the city council tries to fire a city manager, which it has a history of doing, the transition advisory board can override that decision.
Square has said that she hopes to be a member of the board that supervises Hamtramck.
Until that time, Square said her enthusiasm for her job has not abated.
“Every day I come here I get excited about getting things done,” she said.