By Charles Sercombe
An investigation into the unauthorized payment to a Christian-based organization for lot cleaning it performed for the city has taken an unexpected turn.
The investigation into Acts 29 of Hamtramck being contracted to perform blight maintenance in 2009 was initially focused on who gave City Manager Bill Cooper the OK to contract with the group and who authorized paying Acts 29 a little over $13,000.
At the behest of City Councilmember Cathie Gordon, the council asked Cooper to investigate the matter. Cooper reported that his administration mishandled the contract and the overseeing of the organization’s work.
The council never authorized a contract with Acts 29 nor did it authorize a payment to the organization. Perhaps what has confused the matter is that Acts 29 was initially approached by the Michigan State Department of Housing and Development Authority to hire unemployed people to do lot cleanups in Hamtramck and Highland Park.
Cooper admitted his administration didn’t seem to know that Acts 29 was contracted and failed to recognize a series of red flags about the matter.
Last Thursday in a special meeting, the council unanimously agreed to have the state police investigate the matter – a resolution the council had already approved a few weeks prior to the meeting.
The special meeting veered into a series of resolutions that either didn’t receive a second motion of support or were shot down by the council. The council appeared to be confused on what action to take and what instructions to give state police investigators.
At one point Councilmember Tom Jankowski took a totally different direction and proposed firing DPW Superintendent Martin Ladd, which City Attorney James Allen cautioned the council to first meet in closed session to discuss.
Jankowski read a prepared statement saying that Ladd is to blame for missing a series of signals to see if Acts 29 was properly contracted and if it was doing work it claimed to do.
After their closed meeting, Jankowski withdrew his motion. Had the council approved it, it might have been a violation of the City Charter, which bars the council from dealing with the city manager’s administration directly. The council is also forbidden to “give any order or directions, written or verbal, either publicly or privately, to any of the subordinates of the city manager.”
Ladd is an appointee of Cooper.
The Council’s last direction to the state police was to see if Acts 29 and another contractor, Platinum, fraudulently billed the city for blight maintenance. Councilmember Mohamed Hassan objected to having Platinum investigated since the company was not part of the original investigation.
Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole said that since Platinum also billed the city for blight maintenance at the same time Acts 29 was doing the work, both needed to be included in the investigation.
City Attorney Allen said it was pointless to tell state police investigators what to investigate. He said the state will review the documents related to the matter and decide on its own what direction to take.