It’s hard to believe that the year 2010 will soon be history.
And what a year it was for Hamtramck. Just about every month was jam-packed with important stories. The story of the year, as we anointed it in last week’s issue, was the city’s deteriorating financial picture. You’ll get to read how this story played out during the past 12 months.
This week, we take a look back on the first six months of the year.
Hamtramck’s most notorious bar, Shadow Bar, kicked off the year in yet another incident involving guns. On a Saturday night, a fight erupted into a 1920s-era shootout. Police said three suspects, one of whom was sporting a “Mohawk” haircut, used what was described as “Tommy” guns to shoot up a victim.
The victim, who police declined to identify, survived despite suffering multiple wounds.
In the months to come, this would not be an isolated incident at the bar.
If only Hamtramck’s City Council could get along like the way they did at the start of their new term.
Three new councilmembers were newly elected: Mohammed Hassan, Kazi Miah and Tom Jankowski. During their inauguration, there were plenty of smiles, promises to work together and lots of optimism.
It was also historical. Councilmembers Hassan and Miah joined fellow Bangladeshi-American Shahab Ahmed as being part of that community’s growing political influence.
The most rousing and emotional speech was given by newcomer Kazi Miah, who thanked a dozen or so people and dignitaries in the audience and also recounted the poverty his family overcame when they first moved here.
Miah said he will approach working with his fellow councilmembers with the same philosophy he uses as coach for his basketball team.
“We’re not going to make this personal,” he said. “We’re going to work for the betterment of the city. We are going to agree to disagree. …”
At the end of his 10-minute speech, the audience whistled and clapped with approval.
Mohammed Hassan also promised to support his fellow city officials but waded further into specifics about what he would like to see happen. He called for more diversity in the city workforce and also a reduction in the number of city employees if the city needs to find savings in its budget.
Hassan also called for the end of home inspections unless the condition of a house is “not sanitatious.”
(Editor’s note: Yes, that’s the word he used.)
Former mayor Tom Jankowski said that it’s time to stop focusing on individuals in the city and concentrate instead on the city itself.
“We really need to nurture this city,” he said.
Jankowski also invited the public to come back to him a year from now and “let me know how I’m doing.”
(Editor’s note: Anyone want to be the first to let Jankowski know how he’s doing?)
Mayor Karen Majewski predicted the coming year would present challenges, but she was also optimistic about the city’s future.
“Hamtramck has good bones — intact neighborhoods, walkable streets, a lively downtown, close proximity to the cultural and educational institutions of our largest neighbor, an exciting ethnic mix — you’ve heard all this before, but maybe you need to be reminded of how valued these resources are considered outside of Hamtramck, and what a workable foundation they give us, especially as Southeast Michigan re-crafts itself,” she said.
So, how long did this honeymoon last?
Flash forward to two weeks later, and the first hint of a division erupted. Councilmembers Hassan and Miah supported appointing Councilmember Cathie Gordon to the position of Mayoral Pro Tem, while Councilmember Ahmed proposed Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole to that position.
The vote divided the council, but in the end Stackpoole won the appointment. That voting alliance later played out more regularly during the year.
The coming year looked bright for the public schools, but, oh, how that story would soon change. In the meantime, the district was slated to receive $1.7 million from a federal schools program called “Race to the Top.”
What the program offered was financial incentives to improve student scores. However, that was not-so-good-news for teachers who were deemed to perform poorly, which was based on how well their students scored.
We pointed out that the program sound more like “Race to the Bottom.” Or, file this federal handout under: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Call it Hamtramck’s hard luck. Just as the city prepared to celebrate the final stages of a settlement in a 30-year-old housing discrimination lawsuit with the building of 65 new housing units, the housing market remained in the dumps.
But there was still plenty to cheer about: what had been an albatross hanging over the city was now coming to an end. Well, not quite. New housing units would still be announced in the months to come in what was like a never-ending end to this story.
And as you can guess, more housing will be built in 2011.
January had been mild until the end of the month when a deep freeze settled in. For the homeless, cold weather is obviously more than a mere inconvenience. But fortunately for them, a Hamtramck volunteer group called Burners without Borders was at the ready.
The group, led by Hamtramck resident Danielle ‘doxie’ Kaltz, prepared dozens of backpacks loaded with food, warm clothing and personal hygiene items to distribute to the homeless here and in the metro area.
A Detroit area man from the Bengali community being held in the Macomb County jail on a charge of murdering his wife was apparently so despondent he slit his throat while in his cell. But the case of Mohammed Abdul-Fazal Chowdhury took a mysterious turn when it was discovered he had cut off his genitals as well.
The Bengali community was suspicious of the matter, saying Chowdhury’s death indicated there was torture involved.
An independent investigation was called for. Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel denied there was wrong-doing and said the Bengali community had overreacted.
And speaking of the Bangladeshi-American community, the lead suspect in the case of missing 3-year-old Tangena Hussain was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The two are not related but share the same surname.
Police never could collect enough evidence linking Jamrul Hussain to the child’s disappearance.
But in an unrelated matter, he was found guilty of statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl he had an affair with prior to the child going missing.
As for little Tangena, who, if still alive, would be 4 years old, police are still trying to find out what happened to her. Strangely, Tangena’s mother returned to her native Bangladesh with the case still unsolved.
What’s one subject that’s guaranteed to start an argument among city officials?
Or, more specifically, to charge for parking on main streets or allow the public to park for free?
There were and are stirring arguments for both sides. One school of thought is that free parking will attract more visitors and make businesses very happy.
The other side says metered parking helps offset maintenance costs and deters freeloaders from hogging limited parking spaces all day.
The latest twist during this debate was whether to replace lost or broken meters or allow free parking in city lots. Upshot: The meters stayed and more were ordered
The City Council agreed – except for Councilmember Cathie Gordon – to spend $18,000 to replace missing meters, mostly on the northend of Jos. Campau. For you astute observers, yes it’s no coincidence the city focused on the northend, where the newly built state Department of Human Services office was about to open.
More on the DHS building next month.
In a year filled with gloomy financial news, Hamtramck had one major celebration. The new state Department of Human Services building was officially opened. Built on the site of the former Woodrow W. Woody Pontiac dealership, the construction of the building pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy.
The building also houses 200 employees who in turn service thousands of clients. It was hoped that the new development would spur more development in the otherwise blighted northend of Jos. Campau.
That hope, however, never came to fruition. At least, not yet.
A year after the tragic and mysterious shooting death of Rafiqul Islam, his family and the community finally got some answers.
Detroiter Andre Wade, then 24, was charged with his death, but the circumstances leading to the shooting were painfully full of ignorance and prejudice. You see, Wade was under the belief that “Arabs” are known to carry large sums of money. Wade, not knowing the difference between Bangladeshi and ethnic Arabs, assumed Rafiqul had money on him.
Rafiqul had just exited his car in front of his house when Wade came by and shot him. For whatever reason, there was no sign of a robbery — just a senseless killing of an innocent man.
Despite the lousy economy in the region, two businesses opened up. Amar Pizza on Conant fired up its ovens, and longtime bar owner Nolan ‘Skipper’ LaFramboise II took over the former Chill and Mingle, also on Conant. His dubbed his bar “Skipper’s Hamtown.”
The word “Amar” means “my” in Bangladesh, and the owners said it was another of saying, “what is mine is yours.” (Editor’s note: Also, the barbecue chicken pizza at Amar is fantastic. Try it!)
Skipper said he was aiming to make his place an old-fashioned neighborhood bar, a thing that has become a lost art in Hamtramck. We’re glad to report that, almost a year later, both businesses are still going strong.
If it’s February, it must be time for Paczki Day, and oh man, what a day it was. From morning until night, Jos. Campau was bumper-to-bumper traffic with paczki lovers jamming local bakeries and bars.
It was the second year in a row that Hamtramck enjoyed a revitalized Paczki Day, thanks largely the effort of Special Events Coordinator Eve Doster Knepp. Unfortunately for Eve, she was later laid off because of the city’s budget deficit.
Hamtramck firefighters managed to avoid laying off 16 firefighters by agreeing to a wage freeze and holding off from accepting a 3-percent salary increase. You could say that February was the beginning of the city’s belt-tightening.
Nearly six months after a fuel tank blew up at the Sterling Oil plant, the company asked for a fast-track approval to erect eight new tanks.
But the City Council said the company would first have to address several safety issues.
That didn’t sit well with one of the owners of the company, Jason Eddleston, who said his customers need to have the tanks ready as soon as possible.
Fire Chief Steve Paruk said he wanted to first have a fire suppression system installed over the tanks in case there is another fire. He said he also wants to have a site on the plant grounds where special foam used in fighting fuel fires can be stored.
The matter was later resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.
Still, thoughts of that fire are still unsettling for anyone who lived nearby.
What’s worse than a trip to the Post Office (where you often have to wait in long lines)? Maybe a trip to the Secretary of State building (where there are often even longer lines) – but that wasn’t going to be the case for long.
Starting right on March 1, the Hamtramck Secretary of State building merged with the Highland Park facility to create the Hamtramck Area PLUS Office. The interior was transformed with the installation of new carpet and the addition of a more customer-friendly counter design. A Self-Service Station was also be added for extra convenience.
The consolidation of the offices meant extended hours at the Hamtramck location. The Hamtramck location is now open on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In addition to more hours, the office offers more services. Instant titles are available, and as an added bonus, payment can be made by Discover or MasterCard.
It was hoped by city officials that the new office would benefit more than just the customers of the Secretary of State. A larger office required a larger staff, which meant more tax revenue for the city. And increased foot traffic was hoped to provide an economic boost to the southend of Jos. Campau.
“People will come to the city for Secretary of State services, but they’ll have other needs as well,” said Community and Economic Development Director Jason Friedmann. “If they’re hungry and need food or their car needs gas, they’ll be buying it in Hamtramck.”
Well, it’s now almost a year and it’s hard to determine how much of an economic impact the office has made. But we know one thing from first-hand experience: the lines are just as long and slow-moving.
Sometimes an extra three or five seconds makes all the difference in the world. Or, at least when it comes to regulating traffic flow on Caniff. Thanks to a federal grant, the city’s traffic lights were replaced up and down Caniff and sported a high-tech gizmo.
The new lights were able to gauge traffic flow and adjust how long red lights should last in order to keep cars moving along. Flash forward to December, and, ah, yeah. It sounded promising at the time. In fact, traffic flow might actually be worse! Especially in front of the fire station.
This year’s annual “Hamtramck Blowout” was cited by our writer, Walter Wasacz, as one of the best. Here’s what he had to say about the musical event:
“For fans of music, or fans of vibrant community life or fans of unseasonably warm late winter weather, they all had one thing in common last weekend: the Hamtramck Blowout, a mega-fest held in the city for the past 13 years in various bars, clubs and social halls.
“In terms of overall quality, this four-day party was arguably one of the best — and that’s saying something considering previous events sponsored by alternative weekly the Metro Times featured performances by Eminem, White Stripes, Brendan Benson, The Go, Enemy Squad, the Detroit Grand Pubahs, Von Bondies, Matthew Dear and hundreds of others ambitious and obscure since 1998.
“It wasn’t just spotty quality here and there; it was consistently solid across the board, with few misses at the 15 venues in the city and at the Majestic Theatre Center in Detroit, where the pre-party was held on two floors last Wednesday. There was something for almost anybody into a Detroit music vibe. Octopus, Detroit Cobras, the Sights, Cannon for heavy garage blues; Timmy’s Organism, the Friendly Foes, Black Lodge, Zoos of Berlin, the Cold Wave and Silverghost for punchy art rock jams; Dial 81, Jamie Register & the Glendales and Invincible for more urban rhythms and sounds; Detroit Threads for techno, house and all else electronic (special guests included the Detroit Techno Militia crew and Docile Records’ Andy Garcia).
“It was easy to get nostalgic and misty-eyed about the past just by standing in front of the Painted Lady, the same building where Lili Karwowski once graced the punk rock nation by just being herself, no matter who were her guests: Iggy Pop, Wayne Kramer, Joe Strummer or the rest of the Clash. This modified Hamtramck vertical duplex operated as a speakeasy during prohibition, later evolving into Sam’s Cafe, the Columbia Bar and, most famously, Lili’s 21. The venue pre-dated the Blowout by two decades, and had an incredible run from the late 1970s to 2002, when Lili’s surviving sons (she died almost three years before) decided to close the business. …”
The Hamtramck branch of the NAACP had some issues with the city’s police department.
The civil rights organization held a rally in Zussman Park, directly across from the city’s police station inside City Hall.
“We want the people to be able to respect the department and vice versa,” said Kamal Rahman, president of the Hamtramck NAACP.
Those concerns included the recent arrest of a local minister who said he was assaulted by officers.
Police officials, speaking privately, said the minister interfered with officers during an investigation of a suspected house burglary and became unruly.
(Editor’s note: Just as we were going to press, a Hamtramck 31st District Court jury found the Rev. Wayne Little indeed guilty of interfering with officers. It took the jury five minutes to come to that decision.)
Rahman said other concerns included how a Bangladeshi man was treated after he claimed he was the victim of a theft, the lack of ethnic and racial diversity in the department and the department’s promise to generate $60,000 a month in revenue from traffic tickets, which was made to avoid layoffs.
Rahman said that drivers in the community with spotless records were getting tickets. Rahman stressed that the traffic program might be “illegal” because there appears to be a quota system for officers.
“This program puts undo pressure on officers,” he said.
Also of concern was the after-school violence near Hamtramck High School, which in recent weeks appeared to have escalated and continued on for two-to-three hours with packs of kids running from one place to another to square off and fight.
As the national Census count got underway, some wondered if the Census Bureau even knew that Hamtramck existed.
That’s what some Hamtramck residents were thinking when they read the address on a recently mailed Census survey forms.
The addresses on the mailings listed Detroit instead of Hamtramck, and that had a number of city officials and residents shocked and angry. Turns out, however, the same thing happened to the forms mailed to the Grosse Pointes and other nearby suburbs.
By December, city officials were bracing for bad news that the once-every-10-year national population count will come up a little short for Hamtramck. A drop in population will lead to less federal tax monies and projects coming this way.
A new “pool” opened this month, but never mind bringing your swimsuit.
The newly opened “Public Pool” was the latest addition to the city’s bustling art scene. The new gallery, located on Caniff, featured live performances as well as exhibits.
“Public Pool is a new art cooperative looking to create and support a wide range of contemporary art experiences… (it) will both coordinate and execute its own shows, and invite other artists to share their ideas in the space,” said gallery organizers.
And it indeed did become one of the “it” places to be. If you haven’t checked it out, stop on by. The water’s fine.
The world of rap and street poetry took center stage at Hamtramck High School. Teachers at the school organized a special class featuring local rappers of note.
The class was a hit with students.
The end result of that contact was that Hamtramck High was one of two area schools (Detroit’s Mumford being the other) that sent a group of their best and brightest wordsmiths to the Music Hall in April.
Michigan communities owed Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski a big thanks.
The mayor was instrumental in convincing lawmakers to hold off from passing a budget with a 3.1 percent cut to statutory revenue sharing.
Even better, after her impassioned speech, as well as input from Andy Schor, Assistant Director of the Michigan Municipal League’s (MML) State Affairs division, the Appropriations Committee voted to return the level of statutory revenue sharing to its current amount. Moreover, they voted to increase revenue sharing by 1 percent.
According to Summer Minnick, director of the MML’s State Affairs division, Majewski’s speech was instrumental in convincing the committee that communities had already suffered enough through previous cuts to revenue sharing.
“We believe having Mayor Majewski testify, in particular, went a long way in convincing the committee that our communities have already suffered enough,” she wrote on the MML’s web page on March 19.
There was a lot of talk this year about parks in the city, with one big question remaining: what should Hamtramck do with the grandstands at Veterans Park?
Unfortunately, that answer would have to wait until after the Master Plan Update was completed.
Currently, the grandstands sit unused and in a state of disrepair. Few people remember when it was last used, and even fewer people seem to have been around when it was in use.
Longtime Hamtramck resident Joe Marecki said he couldn’t remember it being used past the late 1970s, and though lifelong resident and Hamtramck Recreation Commission President Dave Olko says he thinks it was last used around 10 years ago, he adds that “the grandstands haven’t been functional for 30 to 40 years.”
We’re still waiting to see if “they” will (re)build it.
Hamtramck wasn’t the only city issuing more traffic tickets.
According to a report in USA Today, cities across the country were ramping up traffic enforcement in order to avoid layoffs and shore up local budgets. Cops and state police were reportedly no longer looking the other way when drivers went 5 to 10 miles over the speed limit. Instead, they pulled over those drivers in an effort to raise more money.
In Hamtramck, the police officers’ union avoided layoffs by agreeing to bring in at least $60,000 a month in traffic fines.
That plan came under fire by the Hamtramck branch of the NAACP. The civil rights group said this was a quota system and said that is illegal. The program is still in effect.
Times were tough for a lot of folks. And times are still tough.
In April, city officials got a taste of just how bad it was for residents when about 400 homeowners asked for a break on their home values during the recent March Assessment Board of Appeals hearings.
A lower house assessment would mean a reduction in the amount of property taxes owed.
Out of the 400 who asked for a tax break, 100 of them claimed they simply didn’t have enough money to pay their taxes at all. Unfortunately for them, there was no such thing as getting a 100 percent break.
City Assessor Tony Fuoco said that the best that could be done was to reduce what’s owed to 3-1/2 percent of the homeowner’s total income because of their financial hardship.
Some pro-active police work paid off for Hamtramck.
During March and April, a street mugger had been targeting elderly women — including an 82-year-old — and got away with over a dozen attacks. He escaped arrest, that is, until one victim was able to provide a good description of the suspect and the general area where the suspect was last seen.
That led to the surveillance of a certain area of the city, which police declined to reveal. Sure enough, the suspect was spotted.
And then some good luck struck. While tailing the suspect, undercover officers stumbled upon several other suspects breaking into a house.
The burglars were nabbed and the mugger was also nabbed.
The federal government’s stimulus program continued to juice Hamtramck.
The Fire Department won two grants through the Department of Homeland Security that greatly offset the costs of a new fire truck and an exhaust system inside the fire station. This meant the Fire Department was in line to receive a second new truck within a year.
Although the department indeed needed a new truck, what it really needed – and still does — is a new aerial ladder truck. The department’s current ladder truck is about 30 years old and keeps breaking down.
So far, the federal government has turned down the department’s grant requests for a new ladder truck. One reason the grant is being turned down is that a new ladder truck costs about $1 million.
Well, there is always the coming new year to keep on trying.
Hamtramck’s ongoing budget deficit took a new twist. City Manager Bill Cooper announced that he needed to slash spending to plug a $2 million budget deficit.
A few months earlier, Cooper thought he had a workable plan to deal with the city’s deficit. But one key part of the plan depended on Detroit officials continuing a payment sharing plan from GM’s Poletown plant, which straddles both Detroit and Hamtramck.
As it turned out, Detroit refused to budge from its position that the special tax agreement created when the plant was constructed in the 1980s had ended months earlier. Detroit also claimed it had overpaid Hamtramck for several years.
Cooper said he had hoped to work out a deal with Detroit.
Despite his guarded optimism, it already looked like the dispute was heading to court, which it eventually did. Adding to the city’s financial challenge was the cost increase for health insurance, which Cooper said shot up by $500,000.
Cooper and the council held a series of early morning work sessions to iron out a new budget plan. Those special work sessions continued throughout the year.
The Hamtramck Housing Commission received the kind of surprise most of us would die for.
In a routine review of its financial holdings, the commission discovered it had an extra $1 million.
Turns out it came from the federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Thanks to the government’s largesse, the commission was able to jump on several improvement projects ahead of time.
At the Col. Hamtramck apartments, all of the kitchen cabinets were swapped out with new ones. The old ones – get this — had a thick coating of pesticide from years of spraying for bugs.
Replacing the cabinets cost $500,000.
Security cameras also were installed at the projects, which Executive Director Kevin Kondrat – who is a retired Hamtramck police detective – was excited about. The public housing complex has had its share of problems in the past.
The cameras allowed Kondrat to review what happens during the night, which is when most of the trouble occurs.
So, for all of you criminal types who are still unaware of the cameras, take this as a warning. If you are caught on tape doing something, well, criminal, you can count on be visited by the police, and if you live in the complex you and your family can be kicked out.
At the Senior Plaza, the federal grant was used to rip out the parking lot and repave it. The front entrance also got a design redo with the addition of a European-style patio. Hooray for Obama Bucks!
Did Hamtramck Recreation Director Craig Daniels flush money down the proverbial drain?
That was a question that School Boardmember Hedy Shulgon raised, and the issue mushroomed from there as the weeks went by. The project came under scrutiny at a School Board meeting where Shulgon made public a letter from the state Department of Environmental Quality that outlined several concerns involving the recently built splash pad in Pulaski Park.
The Recreation Department apparently did not first contact the DEQ to find out what is required to install a splash pad. The DEQ had requested additional information about the pad, but that request had not been answered.
The Review received a copy of the letter through a Freedom of Information Request. In the letter, Paul Sisson, an Environmental Engineer for the Campgrounds & Pools Unit of the DEQ, said the plans for the “proposed” splash pad were “generally satisfactory” but pointed out additional information was needed.
There was plenty more to come from this story.
Hamtramck’s past reputation as being a speed trap came to haunt the city once more.
A Detroit News story reported that many municipalities in the state have not complied with Public Act 85, a law that requires cities to conduct scientific studies in order to set proper speed limits.
One of the roads that the News said does not comply with the law is the I-75 Service Drive in Hamtramck.
On a recent day, four separate drivers all realized they had been pulled over at the same spot just past the overpass heading north on the service drive, south of Caniff. One unidentified woman related how she thought she was traveling the speed limit but was pulled over by the officers riding behind her.
“Why would I be speeding if I knew there was a police officer behind me?” she said. “I didn’t even see a posted sign until the officer pointed it out, and it was on the side of the wall. Twenty-five [mph] is way too low.”
When notified of the News article and its findings that Hamtramck may be enforcing illegal speed limits, City Manager Bill Cooper said he had “heard that rumor,” but he appeared to be unfamiliar with the law.
However, he said that the city would be looking into it and if a study proved a new speed was necessary he would comply with what was found.
“If we find that the speed limit isn’t what it should be, we’ll take the steps to correct it,” he said.
Complying with the law is no small matter in Hamtramck. To close a budget deficit, police officers have committed to producing at least $60,000 in traffic fines per month. To date, speed limits have remained the same, and drivers are still being ticketed.
The state’s new smoking ban in bars and restaurants went into effect. But Police Chief Mark Kalinowski said his department would not become “the tobacco police.”
Instead of local law enforcement keeping tabs on the smoking ban, Kalinowski said it will be up to the local health department.
But there was a catch. If a manager of bar tells a customer to put out their cigarette and that customer refuses and refuses to leave when told, that’s when the cops would come in. Kalinowski said the uncooperative customer could be cited for trespassing and being disorderly.
But if a bar owner doesn’t mind if his customers smoke and a cop happens to walk in, Kalinowski said the only action the officer would take is to tell the owner about the law. The state department of health could, however, investigate if a complaint is filed, and a bar could have its license revoked for ignoring the law.
Amazingly, Hamtramck bars complied with the law. But months later bar owners bitterly complained the ban on smoking led to a huge decrease in business because their patrons decided to stay home and smoke and drink.
Here’s another question about the Recreation Department’s splash pad: Did Hamtramck taxpayers get soaked for what it cost to construct the splash pad?
In a survey by The Review of other communities that installed a splash pad, it certainly looked like it.
In the previous fall, the Hamtramck Recreation Department spent $115,853 to build a 900-square-foot pad. But before it could be turned on for use in June, the project ran into trouble.
The state Department of Environmental Quality said no one submitted plans for the project before it was built, and the DEQ sought additional information before it could be inspected and OK’d for use.
Recreation Director Craig Daniels refused to answer questions about the project posed by The Review and hung up during a phone interview with a Review reporter. Daniels did say, over and over, before hanging up, that the contractor who installed the pad was “handling” the matter.
The splash pad was eventually OK’d, but then another twist happened. When the splash pad opened, the hours the public could actually use it were limited to late afternoon and evening hours. Despite the brutal heat wave we experienced during the summer.
Now it’s Warren’s turn to face the budget knife of Lou Schimmel.
Schimmel was once the state-appointed emergency financial manager for Hamtramck, and by the end of his four-year run he had few supporters in town.
Warren Mayor James Founts hired him to negotiate new contracts with that city’s unions.
Four days into his new job, Schimmel already had made enemies in Warren.
According to a report in the Macomb Daily, Schimmel was dubbed “hatchet man” for proposing to lay off 23 Warren police officers. Schimmel’s key role was to help Founts downsize Warren’s government workforce.
Warren was facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit.
Heads-up parents, you better keep a close watch on your kids or be prepared to hand over some cash.
Hamtramck adopted a “parental responsibility” law that many other cities have also enacted. Simply put, the law allows the Police Department to issue misdemeanor tickets to parents if their child commits a crime.
That means if your kid is arrested, you will also face a charge.
The law was introduced by City Councilmember Cathie Gordon. It took three months for the council to finally act on the proposal. Gordon said she introduced it because of the rash of student fights after school.
“Being a grandmother and looking at these kids, there’s got to be something better for them to do than fighting,” Gordon said. “We need to send a message that this is unacceptable behavior.”
Parents can face a maximum penalty of $500 and/or 90 days in jail. However, the court also has the discretion to sentence parents to community service or counseling.
City Manager Bill Cooper said the law is a “wake-up call” for parents who refuse to do their job.
For the first time in years, the words “receivership” and “bankruptcy” were being used to describe Hamtramck’s financial future.
Just a year ago, things were looking rosy for the city, financially speaking.
And then the economy continued to tank, forcing the state to slash revenue sharing with cities. To make matters worse, Detroit reduced the revenue sharing deal with Hamtramck from the GM Poletown plant by $1 to $2 million.
Oh wait, there was more. Blue Cross Blue Shield increased health insurance by 20 percent. And the city’s four labor unions said no to a 5-percent salary cut.
The City Council and city manager held budget work sessions to figure how to balance this year’s budget. The phrase “it’s not a pretty picture” was repeated throughout one three-hour meeting.
Despite several budget work sessions, the council could not reach even a bare-majority agreement on where to cut in the budget and what revenue increases could be included. By state law, the city had to adopt a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year by June 2.
Hamtramck’s most notorious bar was once again in the news.
During one recent night, four men leaving the Shadow Bar were approached by two men with guns. The two suspects demanded money from the four men as well as their Cartier glasses.
One robbery victim was shot in the leg, but why he was shot is not clear. The two suspects escaped.
None of the four victims agreed to cooperate with investigators, saying they had “no comment,” according to Detective Derek Suwalkowski.
It looked like the initiative to restore the grandstands at Veterans Park was beginning to pick up some steam.
Previously, The Review reported that members of the community were concerned that the grandstands may be torn down as a result of the city’s new Master Plan and had begun an effort to save the structure. After seeing the story, one of our readers tipped off baseball writer and historian Gary Gillette, who then called The Review to offer his own two cents.
Gillette is a Detroiter and former columnist for ESPN Insider who has edited numerous books on baseball – including the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. He was heavily involved in the effort to preserve Tiger Stadium and had been actively researching the history of the grandstands at Veterans Park. What he had to say was nothing short of historic.
“The fact is that the stadium is not simply a decrepit old park,” he said. “It is one of only five remaining places where Negro League ballgames were played.”
According to Gillette, the stadium was built in 1930 and was home to the Detroit Stars from 1930 to 1931 and the Detroit Wolves in 1933.
Unfortunately, the road to receiving a historic designation is blocked by a human error. Two years ago, Gillette discovered that an oft-repeated mistake had obscured the history of the stadium. Apparently, at some point a reference book inaccurately reported that the grandstands were knocked down to make way for Keyworth Stadium. After that “fact” was repeated over and over, the truth was forgotten to time.
All that wass needed to prove the case was a photograph. Because of the erroneous report that the site was demolished, as well as the fact that the Wayne County Road Commission renovated the site in 1941 using Workers Progress Administration money, there was no real proof that the site is actually the place where Negro League games were played. Gillette said that any picture of the stadium from between 1930 and 1941 would help seal the deal.
“The smoking gun would be a photo,” he said.
When many of Hamtramck public school students returned to school in the fall, the classroom experience wasn’t the same.
Thanks to a multi-million dollar federal stimulus for the public schools, most of the classrooms were to be high-tech.
In the first phase of the plan, students in fifth to eighth grades were to each receive a mini-notebook computer to use throughout the day. Teachers were to also use what’s called an interactive whiteboard, which will likely replace chalkboards in the near future.
Students would have Internet access while in school, but that didn’t mean they could spend the day on Facebook. Teachers are able to monitor what students are viewing.
City Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole gave it one more try to convince her colleagues to pass a property tax increase.
And again, it went nowhere.
At a recent council meeting, Stackpoole proposed raising the city’s tax rate to the maximum amount allowed before voters have to approve of further increases.
This time, the tax would have been earmarked solely to reduce the city’s debt. The tax increase would have been 2.3 mills, roughly an extra $65 a year for the average homeowner.
The past two attempts to raise the tax rate also fell on deaf ears, but at least then she received a second to her motion to get the proposal on the floor for a vote.
This time, she didn’t even get a second to allow the proposal to be voted on.
Stackpoole was steamed.
She lashed out at her colleagues, saying “this is absolutely absurd.”
What happens when you own a bar that attracts the wrong crowd and gains a reputation for fights and gunfire?
That’s just what the owners of the Shadow Bar did. The bar had become notorious in the last year after experiencing repeated muggings outside the building and, just recently, the city’s first homicide of the year.
City officials finally had enough and were asking state officials to pull the bar’s license because it had become a public menace.
In a move to save the bar — and a business — the owners offered to change from an “urban” format (which is another way of saying a black clientele) to a gay format.
Six months later, it’s all good and safe over at the bar, which is now called “Ice.”
Get the champagne bottles out and let’s have a toast. Hamtramck’s Historical Commission can now celebrate a historical moment of its own.
The City Council agreed to purchase the former Polish Legion of American Veterans Post 1 Hall on Holbrook.
While the commission could have theoretically immediately opened a museum right after closing the deal, it decided to wait for renovations.
The cost of the purchase received a huge helping hand from the state’s Cities of Promise program, which Hamtramck belongs to. The state kicked in $75,000 of the total cost of $92,000.
Upkeep of the two-story building will be the responsibility of the Friends of Historical Hamtramck. It’s estimated that the yearly heating and utility bills will run about $10,000 a year.
Been hacking and wheezing a bit?
Besides battling seasonal allergies during the spring and summer, Hamtramck residents faced a more serious health threat: air pollution.
According to statistics compiled by the federal Environmental Protection Agency of toxic levels in all of the state’s postal zip codes (which were made available through the Detroit Free Press), Hamtramck ranked 27th highest.
The zip code 48217, which is southwest Detroit, had the worst pollution.
During the previous decades, Hamtramck has faced high fallout of lead from nearby factories. Several years ago the EPA offered free testing at households near I-75 and replaced lawns and shrubs where high levels of lead were found.
Hamtramck also receives fallout from Detroit’s incinerator as well as the GM Poletown plant.
In the past, there used to be far more manufacturing plants operating nearby. If anything, Hamtramck’s air is probably cleaner that it was decades ago. Still, there are a significant number of children in the area who suffer from asthma, which is believed to be linked to pollution.
(That’s it for part one of our year in review. Next week: July through December.)