By Charles Sercombe
What was the biggest news story of last year?
There were so many issues that popped up it’s a coin toss to say one is more important than another.
And of course there was good news and bad news throughout the year.
At the beginning of the year, the city was chilled by the kidnapping and eventual murder of two women, and then a month later the carjacking and sexual assault of three women.
Hamtramck’s financial woes seemed to hog the headlines.
But there were encouraging development news, including an ongoing housing construction boon and the introduction of an innovative new way to recycle old housing, called deconstruction.
But perhaps the most astonishing issue was that of the revolving door leading to the city manager’s office.
And so, we pick Hamtramck’s game of musical chairs for the position of city manager as the “Newsmaker” of 2012.
It all started back in March with the firing of City Manager Bill Cooper, who had been with the city for a few years before cracks started to develop with his relationship with certain city councilmembers – most notably Tom Jankowski, who relentlessly peppered Cooper with increasing demands for documentation, reports and criticism for failures to live up to those demands.
It didn’t help that at the same time the city’s finances started to crumble. With the election of Gov. Rick Snyder, all communities took a financial hit in how much state revenue would be flowing.
Hamtramck also lost tax money when American Axle closed down and took another loss in a dispute with General Motors over how much the company owes to operate the Poletown plant.
Another significant loss in revenue came from the housing meltdown, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes.
As the financial bad news continued to ramp up, it became clear that Cooper was grasping at ways to balance the city’s budget.
Perhaps the tipping point came when Mayor Karen Majewski, who had been a supporter of Cooper, agreed it was time for Cooper to leave.
Who followed Cooper came as a surprise to many. Former Economic Development Director Erik Tungate was ushered in, but had to face criticism from some — notably Councilmember Cathie Gordon — over his qualifications.
When Tungate took on the title of acting city manager, a case was made by his supporters that he didn’t have to have the traditional requirements for the job.
Tungate seemed to make initial progress and even came up with budget deficit elimination plan, which no one liked.
As the weeks ticked by, Tungate faced growing opposition and even outright hostility. He abruptly resigned just days before he was going to be fired anyway. Curiously, Tungate landed on his feet over in Oak Park where he was hired as that city’s city manager.
Take that Hamtramck.
Next up was former Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko. Realizing they had been rough on city managers, councilmembers promised to play nice, but it took only a few weeks before Nazarko also faced hostile remarks.
Nazarko was no glutton for punishment and abruptly (there’s that word again) said he was stepping down. His official line was that he could no longer do the two jobs of finance director and city manager.
In his wake, the council agreed to hire Nazarko’s newly-hired assistant in the city manager’s office, Kyle Tertzag.
Tertzag was the former city manager of the downriver community of Woodhaven.
He was seen as a temporary city manager while the council advertised for a permanent manager. Well, guess what? As it turned out, the council didn’t think any of the candidates for the job would be a good fit and decided to extend Tertzag’s contract until next July.
The thinking is that the city needs to right its finances before seeking a permanent city manager.
Who knows? Maybe by that time Tertzag will look like the obvious choice.
But watch out for what you wish for, Kyle. You just might get the job.