By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck has had a new City Charter for five years.
It took decades before voters agreed to any changes to the original charter that was adopted when the city incorporated in 1922.
And now, City Councilmember Cathie Gordon wants voters to make the first change to the new charter. However, it’s not going to happen because her proposal was shot down by one vote.
The proposal: Have the treasurer be appointed by – and be responsible to — the mayor and council instead of the city manager.
Gordon said she proposed the change because there needs to be independent oversight to the city’s spending. She said both the treasurer and city controller answer to the city manager. She said this has led to at least two instances where the city’s purchasing rules were violated.
“I’m not comfortable with our system of checks and balances,” Gordon said. “We’ve had too many incidents of money falling through the cracks.”
Gordon initially wanted to also have the city clerk be appointed by the mayor and council but withdrew that proposal after the city manager said he would stop allowing the clerk to sign checks if a problem comes up.
The clerk is appointed by the city manager.
Those voting against the proposal said it violates the spirit of the City Charter, which gives management control to a city manager.
Robert Zwolak, who has held various elected positions and sat on the charter revision commission, said he agreed with Gordon’s proposal. However, he said, the proposal needs to be reviewed more before putting it on the ballot.
In the old charter, neither the mayor or the council had the upper hand in managing city affairs, although the mayor ran the day-to-day operation. The treasurer’s position was an elected office.
The sharing of political power led to many political wars and factions. Eventually, that split in power led to a stalemate in the late 1990s. That’s when former Mayor Gary Zych could not get the City Council of that time to agree on a budget for two years.
The state stepped in and appointed an emergency financial manager to take control. Coincidentally, the charter revision commission had wrapped up its proposed new charter. Voters overwhelmingly approved the new charter, which stripped the mayor and council of control and put a city manager in charge.
Under the control of a city manager, the city’s infamous political division has been greatly diffused.
Gordon conceded that appointing a treasurer who would be under the control of the mayor and council could lead to a new round of political battles. But she said the city needs someone independent of the city manager to be a watchdog.
Gordon also stressed that she is not “implicating” the current city manager nor is she accusing anyone of committing a crime.
The vote on her proposal was split down the middle. Mayor Karen Majewski broke the tie by voting against the proposal.