City Hall Insider …

What is our City Council up to these days? We have the scoop and the highlights – as well as the lowlights – of the latest council meeting.

The City Council ended the month of September with a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28. All councilmembers were present, and the two-and-a-half hour meeting was chaired by Mayor Karen Majewski.

Although fall has just arrived, the council had snow removal on its mind. A proposed contract to hire Platinum Landscape for snow removal was discussed and dissected for quite some time. The upshot:
Councilmember Cathie Gordon proposed extending the contract from one year to two years.

Interestingly, Gordon later objected to the notion of awarding the legal services contract for three years. (Hmmmm … this apparent contradiction couldn’t possibly be about a certain someone from Platinum occasionally socializing at Gordon’s bar, could it? Well, let’s put it this way, several City Hall insiders wondered about that connection.)

Anyway, councilmembers mulled over whether the city can legally extend a contract since the city’s bid request asked for a one-year contract. City Attorney James Allen said it’s not unusual for cities to modify contracts after a bid is awarded, and there could be some “wiggle room” to extend the contract at this point.

Councilmember Kazi Miah objected, saying all of the companies that submitted a bid should have an opportunity to bid on a two-year contract.

Food for thought: Councilmember Tom Jankowski said it might be wise to seek bids for services based on two years instead of yearly. He said that would be an efficient way to plan the city’s budget.
Upon Gordon’s suggestion, a majority of the council agreed to postpone awarding the snow removal contract until the next meeting in order to clear up the legal questions raised.

Councilmembers Shahab Ahmed and Miah objected to holding up the contract, but they didn’t have a chance to explain their position.

Just for your information, the snow season goes for 10 months, from Sept. 29 until the end of May, said Department of Public Works Director Martin Ladd.

“If it snows in June, we’re in trouble,” he said.

Given the sweltering, record temperature breaking summer we just went through, a little cooling off might be welcomed.

And since we’re talking about bids and contracts, Platinum would be charging the city various amounts of money depending on the street for each snow job … ah … maybe that’s a poor word choice. Let’s say snow removal. Stay tuned folks, for the ongoing saga, “No Two Flakes are Alike.”

Now that we shook off all this talk of snow and winter, at least for the moment, let’s talk about drugs, as in bad, bad drugs and just saying no. The council unanimously agreed it is against illicit drugs –and supports the “Red Ribbon Campaign Week Encouraging Citizens to Participate in Drug Prevention Education Activities,” which is a national campaign that takes place Oct. 23-31.

Now there’s a mouthful of wording to swallow.

At least the council could agree on one thing: this year’s Hamtramck Labor Day Festival was great and the two organizers who put it all together did a wonderful job. Kathleen Bittner and Rachel Karpinski Srodek, take a bow.

OK, now that the council got all that praisey-ness out of the way, let’s see how they really feel. Some of the members went on to grill, lecture, nitpick and so on about the pair’s proposal to hold another festival right away on Oct. 16-17. This time around, they are proposing to hold a first-ever “Hamtramck Harvest” – or in other words an Oktoberfest.

While the concept was welcomed, some of the councilmembers had issues about the city’s role and the festival already being promoted without first getting city approval to use a city parking lot and have the DDA pull a liquor license. Details, details.

Councilmember Cathie Gordon led the charge, saying Bittner and Srodek overstepped their authority by placing an advertisement in Real Detroit magazine promoting the event. She also said she “detests” hearing about the event from The Review. (Ah … we’ll take that to mean she “detests” not being told beforehand about the event and not that she “detests” The Review. But, you never know.)

While that may look improper – the placing of the ad part — there was an explanation. Bittner said the magazine offered to be a sponsor and put the ad in for free. And the magazine suggested getting the ad in its autumn issue, so it made sense to run it and if the event was turned down, oh well.

Gordon also said it’s not wise for the city to be in the festival business, especially since there is a $3.3 million deficit looming ahead and the possibility that the city will go bankrupt. Gordon laid into City Manager Bill Cooper for letting this event “get past you.”

Cooper, whose face increasingly turned red as the meeting wore on, at one point snapped at Gordon, saying: “Maybe you should do my job.” (Bill – dude! – watch that blood pressure.)

Councilmember Kazi Miah spoke out against the festival, and eventually was the only one to vote against it. His point was that the festival was not reflective of the community and that Bittner and Srodek failed to invite others in the community to help plan and organize it.

Miah also said the event is too financially risky for the city.

Mayor Karen Majewski and Mayoral Pro Tem Catrina Stackpoole were the only two to give a full thumbs up.

“This is a really cool idea,” Majewski said. “You can never have enough festivals.”

(Editor’s note: It should be noted that Gov. Jennifer Granholm has gone on record designating Hamtramck as one of several “cool” cities in the state. So, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Majewski said the festival is a “cool idea.”)

Councilmember Stackpoole praised the event, saying it “lifts up the business community,” and that considering the hard economic times, residents and visitors are looking for fun things to do “that don’t cost an arm and a leg.”

“It sounds like a lot of fun,” Stackpoole said, adding: “You might get my husband in lederhosen.”

As mentioned before, when it came down to a vote, all councilmembers – except for Miah – approved allowing the festival to be held. The event will be in the city parking lot between Polonia Restaurant and the Polish Village Café. There will be food, beer, activities for kids and bands. Admission is $5. (Just for comparison, the City of Pleasant Ridge is holding an Oktoberfest on Oct. 16. Admission is $30 and it’s limited to Pleasant Ridge residents and their guests.)

Let’s talk legal, as in whether the council should approve a new contract with its law firm, the Allen Brothers, PLLC. James Allen has been the city attorney for the past few years.

Councilmember Stackpoole spoke in favor of keeping Allen on, saying it’s critical since the city just filed a lawsuit against Detroit for withholding $3 million in shared tax money from GM’s Poletown plant.

Councilmember Gordon said she was not comfortable with entering into a three-year contract. City Manager Cooper pointed out that length of time was in the city’s bid requirement.

With some small talk out of the way, the vote turned into a whole other issue – a legal one at that. The only vote against the contract was from Councilmember Miah, although his opposition wasn’t entirely clear.

But the twist came from Councilmember Gordon who abstained from the vote. Normally, according to commonly accepted rules of procedure, there is a narrow reason to allow someone to abstain from a vote.

Councilmember Stackpoole said there has to be a direct financial conflict of interest. Gordon disagreed, despite being reminded that she and the council just went through a training program that covered the issue of abstaining in a vote.

Gordon disagreed, and would only elaborate that she had “personal issues” for abstaining.

“You’re not going to make me vote on this,” Gordon said.

Is this the end of this issue? Talk is there will be some research into whether there are –surprise! – legal ramifications to Gordon’s refusal to vote. And guess who will most likely do the research? The Allen Brothers law firm. Stay tuned to the ongoing saga, “Bark of the Legal Beagle.”

You can say one thing about Councilmember Gordon: she stays busy. Gordon offered up an ordinance that essentially treats resale shops the same way as pawnshops: namely that resale shops would be required to register the name of people who sell stuff to their shop and hold onto the items for a certain length of time and each day before noon report to the city what was purchased and from whom in the last 24 hours.


Needless to say, a lot of talk ensued. Councilmember Stackpoole said she was concerned that the few resale shops that are in the city would leave town because of the paperwork required.

Gordon said the type of items that have to be reported are major ones, like electronics and jewelry. Before the meeting, Gordon told The Review that there have been complaints that some resale shops are buying stolen goods. Upshot, the council agreed to postpone further discussion until the Oct. 12 meeting. Stay tuned for the ongoing saga, “Who Stole the Kishka?”

And now for something completely different (sorry Monty Python). City Manager Cooper gave the council the old “good news/bad news” talk. And as always, the bad news came first just so everyone can walk away remembering only the good part.

Bad: the city reluctantly agreed to a reduction of personal property tax charged to American Axle & Manufacturing, which disputed the city’s prior tax assessment since the company shipped its jobs out of Hamtramck and Detroit to Mexico where workers are paid about $25 a day.

The city agreed to refund this “American” company $57,000 for 2009 and will take a hit of over $130,000 in 2010.

“While not good news, it could have been worse,” Cooper said, thus completing the entire “good news/bad news” cliché.

But there was actually good news too: thanks to a convoluted effort to first eliminate the Police Department’s auto theft unit and then turn around and try to save it, the city saved the state funding it has been receiving for the past 24 years. And it gets better: Cooper said he found out that the city can claim proceeds from items seized or forfeited from chop shops and theft rings. He said this new revenue source will offset the $80,000 cost to the city to fund the auto theft unit. A state grant pays for 50 percent of the unit’s two salaries as well as their health insurance and transportation.

And some more good news: the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival netted a profit of $16,000 for the city.

By Charles Sercombe
(Charles Sercombe can be contacted via e-mail at or by calling 313-874-2100.)

One Response to City Hall Insider …

  1. Paul

    October 2, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Festivals and Hamtramck go hand in hand. An Octoberfest is great! Congratulations to those who are supporting it. I would love to see the middle eastern community come up with a fest of their own. This would be great to see on Conant! Hamtramck is in international city with so many on the outside that love it. The more initiatives that bring these people in, the better the city will become. BOO to council members that are always advocating things negatively or selfishly. We don’t need that. The name of the game in Hamtramck is inclusivity and peace for all.

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