City Hall Insider …

By Charles Sercombe

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 met on March 22, and all but Councilmember Kazi Miah were in attendance. The meeting ran over two-and-a-half hours, which also included a closed session.

In the public comment portion, Robert Zwolak spoke on several topics, including a question of why the public will not be getting a draft of the city’s master plan while others are slated to receive it for review.

(It was unclear what the basis was for Zwolak’s assumption that the public would not be given access to copies of the draft. It was later pointed out that copies will, in fact, be made available to the public.)

Regarding a proposal to purchase the front page of The Review’s annual city telephone directory for $5,500, Zwolak questioned whether two of the councilmembers up for re-election will vote in favor of it in order to win the newspaper’s approval. Because, Bob said, if these two councilmembers were to trade their vote for an endorsement, that would be unethical.

(Get your decoder rings out, folks, it’s time to decipher Bob’s barb: Although Bob didn’t say who those councilmembers are, he was likely referring to Councilmembers Catrina Stackpoole and Shahab Ahmed. The other councilmember up for re-election is Cathie Gordon. At this point, none of the councilmembers have indicated they are indeed seeking re-election. Now back to the regularly scheduled program.)

John Ulaj, the Publisher of The Review, said the directory is a tool for the city to promote the historical museum. (The front cover of the telephone directory will feature the museum.)

He also said it’s a resource for the community to find out about businesses located here.

“I take pleasure to update this book every year,” Ulaj said.

Timothy Hanks also spoke about the proposal. He said he doubts the book is accurate because last year’s directory listed his house phone number with the number of the former place of employment of his wife. He said he talked with a Review employee who said mistakes are “not unheard of.”

(Editor’s note: The phone numbers are supplied by a company named Bresser’s, and yes, there are some inaccurate numbers. However, the vast majority of the numbers are accurate.)

Hanks said that with state financial cuts coming, the city can’t afford the ad.

A woman also advised against purchasing the ad. She called the expense “frivolous.”

“It’s not the city’s job to fund an independent business,” she said.

Since we’re on this subject, let’s jump ahead into the meeting when the council discussed whether to OK the purchase of the front cover.

Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole, who proposed the resolution to authorize the purchase, said the directory is a way to “premiere” the city’s historical museum. She said it’s a way to let the public know “it’s here.”

Councilmember Tom Jankowski said that while he’s also excited about the museum, there is no use publicizing it now because it’s not ready to be open to the public.

The Historical Commission’s Chairman, Greg Kowalski, said that actually, the museum will be opening in June. He said the directory is a marketing tool to attract visitors to the city, who in turn come here and spend money with local businesses.

Councilmember Cathie Gordon said her issue is that the city can’t afford the purchase, but suggested finding alternative funding sources within the city, such as tapping into the Historical Commission’s budget.

Kowalski advised against using Commission money because it’s needed to get the museum up and running.

Long story made short: The council voted 3-2 to postpone the purchase in order to seek a way to fund it by not solely tapping into the city’s general fund. Councilmembers Stackpoole and Ahmed voted against putting off the vote.

In a review of a budget amendment, Councilmember Tom Jankowski questioned where the city administration found an extra $300,000 to fund police overtime for the rest of the fiscal year. Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko said the budget was incorrectly drawn up and didn’t include the extra funding, which is coming from the police traffic enforcement program and the drug forfeiture fund.

Regardless of where the money is coming from, Nazarko reminded the council that the overtime is mostly mandated by maintaining minimum staffing requirements.

Councilmember Gordon sharply questioned how the administration could have overlooked this matter in the budget, and also characterized the Police Department’s drug forfeiture fund as a “slush fund.”

Everyone but Councilmember Gordon approved the amendment in the budget.

A lengthy discussion was held on how the council goes about conducting a performance review of the city manager. In a side note, Mayor Karen Majewski said she previously attempted to get the council to fill out a performance review form but only two councilmembers complied.

“I pulled teeth,” she said to get the council to comply.

Councilmember Jankowski said the way the review is conducted and the criteria used needs to be changed.
Another long story made short: Councilmembers Mohammed Hassan and Jankowski agreed to come up with a new review process.

Thanks to a federal energy grant, $115,000 is now available for Hamtramck to tap into to hire a company to install a new heating and cooling system in the fire station and library. And speaking of good things, the city’s historical museum will have a new furnace installed thanks to a “Cities of Promise” grant worth $49,700.

City Manager Bill Cooper said this is the first part of three phases. Later phases include installing new energy efficient windows in City Hall and the library.

Community & Economic Development Director Jason Friedmann gave an overview of a draft of the city’s new master plan, which covers topics like future land development, parks and recreation, business attraction, marketing and a number of other topics.

Friedmann said most cities update their master plan every five to 10 years. Hamtramck’s last master plan was adopted in the 1970s. Friedmann also pointed out that a number of grants require a city to have a master plan.

The proposed master plan will be reviewed by a number of city and county officials, who will have the chance to submit changes.

Councilmember Gordon said she was impressed with the plan, saying it gave her “goose bumps” just reading it.

Just how tight are the city’s finances? Well, the council had to OK a $600,000 loan from the city’s street repair fund to cover next week’s city employee payroll.

City Manager Cooper said the loan will be paid right back with money coming from Detroit. That money is coming from an agreement worked out regarding tax money collected from GM’s Poletown plant. Later on in the meeting, the council officially OK’d the agreement, which will allow Detroit to release $3 million to Hamtramck.

Despite the good news, City Manager Cooper said the city will likely be broke in 10 to 12 months.

Councilmember Gordon took issue over the city administration waiting so long to arrange for the loan. It was explained to her that the issue was fluid and that it was clear only recently that the city had no other way to meet payroll.

Mayor Karen Majewski pointed out that this issue came up because of certain councilmembers who dragged their feet in applying for an emergency state loan to avoid payless paydays.

Councilmember Gordon “applauded” Councilmember Miah for submitting a letter asking to be excused from attending this meeting and the next meeting. She said that there are certain councilmembers who disregard the City Charter’s requirement for councilmembers to ask to be excused from meetings.

(Still have that decoder ring out? The back talk among some in the city is that Councilmember Ahmed has failed to have some of his absences excused, although it can be argued that only Councilmember Miah has officially gone on record seeking an excuse.)

City Manager Bill Cooper gave a lengthy report on the city’s financial picture and the new budget requirements set forth by Gov. Snyder.

Let’s quote the man himself (that would be Cooper) on what’s to come:

On top of everything that is going on in the City, I have been keeping an eye on proposals being made by Governor Snyder, especially in light of the fact that many of the changes he has talked about will have a direct effect on every community within the State.

My interest started with the Governor’s budget, in particular his comments regarding proposed changes to revenue sharing. Yesterday, as many know, the Governor gave a speech regarding Community Development and Local Government Reforms. The speech focused on changes he felt were important to addressing the many issues facing local governments. In that speech, accompanied by a document he sent to the State Legislature, the Governor talked about important steps that the Legislature needed to take.

Revenue Sharing:
• Constitutional revenue sharing would be untouched

• Statutory revenue sharing would be replaced by the Economic Vitality Incentive. Municipalities must meet certain requirements and implement reforms. The reforms he outlined are:

– By October 1, 2011, local governments must produce a citizens guide to their finances and a performance “dashboard” that is readily available to the public.

– By January 1, 2012, municipalities must develop plans to consolidate services that will result in taxpayer savings

– Municipalities must begin to address employee compensation in order to continue to qualify for the Economic Vitality Incentive Program. For any new, modified or extended contract, all employee compensation will be subject to the following:

A. All new hires go on a defined contribution plan or a hybrid retirement plan that caps annual employer contributions at 10% of base salary.

B. Where applicable a 1.5 multiplier should be used to determine employee pensions. A 2.0 multiplier should be used for employees who are not eligible for social security. (Our police and fire departments currently have a 2.5 multiplier)

C. Implement controls to avoid pension spiking such as using a 3-year salary average that does not include more than a total of 240 hours of paid leave and overtime to determine benefit levels. (As of right now our pension calculations include all paid leave and all overtime, with no limits.)

D. If health care is offered, all new hires must be on an 80/20 employer to employee health care premium split. (As of now the City covers the cost of health insurance for the police and fire department employees. AFSCME and Non-Union employees pay at least 15% of the cost of insurance for employee spouses and family coverage.)

NOTE: Municipalities will receive 1/3 of their funding for each category of best practices they meet.

• Local Units must meet every criteria described in each category by the defined timeline to fully benefit from the program. If you do not meet every criteria you will see reduced funding.

• A special portion of this Incentive may be reserved for those communities that combine government operations completely.

NOTE: To be clear, the Governor’s initial proposal will lower Statutory Revenue 33%, or more directly, we will lose about $600,000 per year.

Simple Math (Round Numbers):
Current Statutory $1,800,000
33% Reduction $ 600,000
Remainder $1,200,000
Each Portion $ 400,000

Enabling Consolidation of Jurisdictions:

The Governor is asking for legislation to make it easier for jurisdictions to consolidate services. He wants consolidation to be voluntary, not mandatory.

Ensure collective bargaining at the appropriate time:

This ties to the above as the Governor is calling for legislation that would simply consolidation by requiring negotiations with any union affected by a consolidation, not block consolidation by essentially forcing the consolidating communities to concede to the union contract with the higher pay and benefits.

Amend the Public Employment Relations Act (aka PERA):

Again, make changes to allow for consolidation

Reform Binding Arbitration:

In other words, amend PA 312, it is outdated

• Allow an arbitrator to include a community’s ability to pay as a factor

• Use internal salary and benefit comparison, not just external comparisons

• Both sides should be required to submit a last/best offer before entering into binding arbitration

• The process of binding arbitration should last no more than 90 days

Prohibit Minimum Staffing Requirement:

This addresses requirements as set forth in city charters, the Governor wants this prohibited by law. Requirements that are part of union contracts are not affected.

Implement Local Pension Board Best Practices:

Reforms on how local pension boards operate and report their activities. This does not affect us as our pensions are through MERS.

Unfunded Mandates:

Change PA 101 to include:

• Establish and require a fiscal note process to be developed by the House and Senate fiscal agencies for legislation that affects local governments

• State that in the event legislation is enacted which imposes new, costly requirements on local government without complying with a fiscal note process, such legislation will have no force or effect until compliance is achieved.

PA 101 of 1979 is the original act adopted to implement the Headlee Amendment. This act requires the State to fund these mandates, but it has been largely ignored.

All of the things that the Governor has requested will require changes to various Public Acts, in other words, many laws will have to change in order to accomplish all of the things that the Governor has proposed.

The Governor was recently successful in changing PA 72, making sweeping changes to the powers of an Emergency Manager, for both cities and school districts. If this trend continues, and we have to anticipate it will until proven otherwise, we will have a lot of work to do over the next few months. This work will be critical to assuring that we minimize the reduction in revenue sharing. This is on top of everything else we knew that we would have to do to continue to monitor and control our ongoing financial crisis.

OK, that wraps up the City Manager’s report and this meeting for now. Remember kids, if you’re going to miss class, you better have a good excuse because the hall monitor is on the hunt.

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