That’s a message our City Council needs to keep in mind when considering major changes in Hamtramck’s new charter, which was adopted by voters just five years ago.
Recently, Councilmember Cathie Gordon proposed a change to have the council and mayor appoint the city treasurer instead of having the city manager do so.
Gordon said she wanted to have the treasurer be independent of the city manager to make sure purchasing rules are adhered to.
While it may sound reasonable to have an independent watchdog, it is a bad idea.
The new charter was written to purposely reduce the role of local elected leaders and allow the city to be run by a professionally-trained city manager. The charter is structured to allow the manager to staff his or her own administration – free from local influence and local politics.
For several decades Hamtramck was run by a mayor and city council. The old charter was imperfect in many ways but the key problem it produced was giving the mayor and council about 50-50 power.
Neither the mayor nor the council had the upper hand, although the mayor ran the day-to-day affairs of the city. This awkward sharing of power led to huge political fights and factions.
It became so bad in the late 1990s that the council refused to adopt a city budget for two years straight because of an ongoing political feud between the council and mayor.
That stalemate eventually led the state to intervene and appoint an emergency financial manager.
Coincidentally, a new City Charter was being put together and voters agreed to adopt a new form of city government – a government run by a city manager.
Allowing the council and mayor to take over key administration appointments will be the first step down a slippery slope – a slope that will lead to the return of turf wars.
Let the city manager staff his or her own administration. Let’s not start to tie the hands of our city manager with outside interference from local officials. The voters spoke very clearly that’s what they wanted.
Let’s not start to chip away at a document that has worked well so far.