By Charles Sercombe
It has not been an easy ride for city officials to come up with a policy for granting honorary names to city streets.
The city council has been struggling with the policy for over a month, and although a tentative policy was recently agreed on — sort of — a public hearing scheduled for next Tuesday on the proposal has been postponed by Emergency Manager Cathy Square.
Square said she pulled the policy off of the council agenda for next Tuesday because the new policy has to first be reviewed by the city attorney.
But City Clerk August Gitschlag said on Wednesday the city attorney told him the policy was OK, legal-wise.
It was not clear why the policy was not going to be included back on the council’s agenda for next week, at least when The Review went to press on Thursday.
Earlier in the week The Review asked Square if she had any objections to the policy. She said she had none despite the fact that some of the proposals she had included in the initial policy had been deleted.
The policy has taken a tortuous route in what should have been a routine matter and has also led to a curious divide on council between the Bengali-American side of the council and the non-Bengali members.
At last week’s council meeting, the Bengali-American side had a one-vote advantage with the absence of Councilmember Titus Walters to reshape the policy to their liking.
Prior to this meeting, the changes the Bengali-American members of council were shot down when the council reached a 3-3 tie, which required Mayor Karen Majewski to cast the breaking vote. She did vote, on the side of the non-Bengali side of the divide.
Last Tuesday’s advantage for the Bengali members led to an accusation by Councilmember Robert Zwolak that they were trying to “ram this through his (Walters’) absence. It’s an insult what you’ve done here tonight.”
The changes that the Bengali councilmembers made were to allow international figures to be honored (as opposed to just those who made a contribution to Hamtramck), make it easier to nominate someone and allow the honorific title to remain indefinitely instead of no more than 10 years.
The initial policy required a super majority of the council to approve an honor and also allowed the mayor to vote.
One of the changes made switched it to a simple majority vote and removed the mayor from voting unless there is a tie.
That move irked Mayor Karen Majewski.
“To cut the mayor out of the process like this is insulting to the office,” Majewski said.
Councilmember Mohammed Hassan countered, saying: “There is no insult here.”
The biggest divide in this policy is over naming a street in honor of an international figure.
Councilmember Hassan used the example of Pope John Paul II as someone worthy of honoring.
Councilmember Abu Musa urged the council to look at the bigger picture of things, saying “we are not isolated.”
Mayor Majewski wasn’t buying it.
“We have a limited number of streets,” she said. “We ought to celebrate ourselves.”
The rub here might come from an earlier request from what appears to be rival Bengali political organizations trying to get parts of Caniff and Jos. Campau renamed in honor of two Bengali state officials.
The Bangladesh Awami League and the Bangladesh Association of Michigan want to rename Caniff in honor of the first Prime Minister of an independent Bangladesh, Shiekh Mujib. The two groups, however, differ on the full name of Mujib and how far on Caniff the ceremonial honor should extend.
Another group, Bangladesh Jatiotabadi Dal (BNP) Michigan, wants to rename Caniff in honor of Ziaur Rahman, Bangladesh’s first president after Mujib.
The Michigan Awami League, apparently confused over Hamtramck’s geography, wants to rename Jos. Campau to Conant also in honor of Mujib. (Jos. Campau does not intersect with Conant.)
A fifth political group, the Michigan State Awami League, protested renaming a street after Rahman, saying he was a “ruthless cold blooded killer.”
According to a biography submitted by the Michigan Awami League, Shiekh Mujib was no icon of democracy. When he came to power as prime minister he banned all political parties but his own and closed down newspapers that were not state-owned.
Both Bengali officials were toppled by military coups and shot.
The division over the policy comes just as Emergency Manager Square is scheduled to leave her post on Dec. 18. After that it is presumed the council can move forward on a public hearing on the matter and vote on the policy.
The council will have more local control when Square leaves, but there will still be a state-appointed transition board that has ultimate control over financial matters.
Since the renaming of street signs requires a small financial investment in purchasing a sign, the transition board presumably could weigh in on the matter.
Update: There will be a hearing on the proposed policy at this Tuesday’s (Dec. 9) City Council meeting, starting at 7 p.m.