City Hall Insider

By Charles Sercombe
The City Council met on Jan. 11 with all members in attendance. The meeting lasted for over an hour-and-a-half.

We’re telling you folks, as the city’s financial crisis continues to fester, these meetings are getting pretty intense. The majority of the meeting focused on a debate over whether to apply for a $2.5 million state loan in order for the city to avoid payless paydays.

But before we get to that portion of the meeting, let’s recap what happened during the moments leading up to that discussion.

Chris Sexon, the publisher of the Metro Times, asked to have $5,000 worth of the city’s bus credits for the SMART system set aside for the upcoming Hamtramck Blowout, a music festival that the MT sponsors here in Hamtramck.

The bus credits allows the MT to offer free shuttle service for festivalgoers.

The city has been agreeable to setting aside this bus credit for the past few years, and this year was no exception. The music event occurs during the first weekend of March in about 20 bars and halls and odd spots throughout town. Sexon said some 7,000 music lovers visit the town during the three-day music fest.

We’re not sure what that attendance figure referred to, because it’s at least 7,000 people a night who visit the city.

Note to local restaurants: you might want to stock up and extend your hours. These music kids can get hungry after a night of beer swilling and hair twirling.

We could make a pot joke here, but since the good folks at Patient Caregivers Connection Association really are sincere in what they talk about, we won’t trivialize a very real issue of the day: medical marijuana, and the public’s right to use it for prescribed purposes.

Greg Pawloski calls himself a patient advocate, and he noted that Hamtramck is about to take a historic turn.

(Editor’s note: ever notice when you do a computer spell-check you get, well, unintentionally funny suggestions for spellings? For example, take the name Pawloski. One suggestion is the word “padlock” — yeah as in law enforcement has been “padlocking” marijuana clubs in recent months. Sorry, we couldn’t resist. And heck, for you rabid right-wingers, the name “Pelosi” is also suggested for Pawloski.)

The city has a moratorium on allowing marijuana growing facilities to operate.

But in the meantime, the city council is also looking at adopting a zoning law that would regulate where growing facilities can operate.

While Pawloski praised city officials for taking a step toward welcoming medical marijuana to be grown here, he noted the city’s proposed law could use some “tweaking.”

Namely, he suggested allowing places to open where patients can partake in the weed. Why the need of a public house for medical marijuana patients to ingest pot?

Pawloski said some patients need a place to use the drug, away from children in their house, or perhaps avoid smoke odors from wafting into the houses of neighbors.

These private clubs, so to speak, would be “safe havens.”

So, Pawloski urged the council to withdraw its current proposed law and study one that was drafted by an attorney from the marijuana advocate organization, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Check out its webpage, Willie Nelson is right there. Can’t get more authentic than that.)

OK, let’s take a deep breath, inhale. Ahhhhhh.

From the public, former city official Robert Zwolak took to the lectern. He said that before the council voted on whether to apply for a state loan to keep the city from going broke, there ought to be an “honest public debate” on the matter.

He also noted that the minutes of a previous meeting should have noted that Councilmember Mohammed Hassan announced that he is donating his council salary back to the city. Zwolak also said that Mike Wilk has been working for free as city treasurer.
(Editor’s note: Mike Wilk was dismissed a few months ago as treasurer by the city manager. Those duties were transferred to another employee in the Finance Department. No reason for the shift in duties has been given.)
Former Human Relations Commission member Bill Meyer offered some advice on how to run a city. He said that, speaking as a former businessman, the city needs to live within its means, avoid borrowing money and don’t go into debt.
He also said the city needs to figure out new revenue sources.
And on that note, the council then dived into the issue of whether to apply for a state emergency loan worth $2.5 million. The loan deal would require the city to pay it back within 20 years at an interest rate of .075 percent, or to say in another way, less than 1 percent per year.
City Manager Bill Cooper said this is the best loan deal the state offered. Other offers would require the city to repay the loan within 12 months at an interest rate of 4 to 6 percent.
One such loan offer was a loan against next year’s state tax revenue payments, which Cooper characterized as going to a check cashing place, only to dig the city deeper and deeper into debt.
The 20-year loan deal, he said, would allow the city repay the loan at any time.
(Let’s pause for a moment. What comes next is lengthy and brutal. For you medical marijuana patients out there, take a moment and light up and inhale – it’s no time to go Clinton on us. For non-certified patients, go crack open a beer or pour a stiff cocktail. Joan Barrios, we know you’re reading this, go get another cup of Joe over there at Café 1923. … OK, everyone ready?)
Councilmember Tom Jankowski said he is dissatisfied with the deficit reduction plan submitted by City Manager Cooper. He said the plan should include what to do when part of the GM Poletown plant revenue agreement expires with Detroit, and the city will receive about half less than it does now, or, should be receiving now if it weren’t for a dispute with Detroit about an alleged past overpayment from the plant.
Jankowski said that the overall plan contains too many “ifs.”
Plus, he said, the city needs to first get contract concessions from the city unions, namely the police and fire unions.
Next up, Councilmember Cathie Gordon. She also questioned the deficit reduction plan, but stressed that the budget needs to be “slashed” to the core services.
She said the city’s economic development department and DDA should be eliminated. As for promoting economic development, Gordon said it’s pointless since there have been national press reports about the city’s attempt to file for bankruptcy.
“Who will come here? … We need to put economic development on the backburner,” she said.
As for the DDA, she said it’s costing the city $90,000 a year to subsidize.
“It’s crunch time,” she said.
Councilmember Shahab Ahmed asked Cooper how much the city would save if all city services, excluding police, fire and other emergency related services, were eliminated.
Cooper said the city has already cut $1 million from its budget and that further non-emergency related cuts would result in another $200,000 in savings. He said the city is prevented from further cuts because of contract requirements, such as minimum staffing in the police and fire departments.

Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole noted that the national and state economic “meltdown” has contributed to Hamtramck’s financial woes. She said taking the state’s long-term loan will give the city a chance to “hold onto local control.”
“Without that loan, we’re going to be in receivership,” Stackpoole said.
She also said that if a state-appointed emergency financial manager takes over the city, he or she will raise the city’s property tax level to its legal limit, ask for a state loan and seek contract concessions from the city’s unions.
Those actions, she said, is exactly what the city can do on its own.
She said the council, residents and unions need to “step up to the plate … through this economic crisis.”
“We shouldn’t just give up,” she added.
Another thing Stackpoole noted is that by going bankrupt now, Hamtramck will be alone. She said in the coming year or so many other cities will also be in same financial predicament.
It’s better, she said, to be in the “middle of the herd.”
Councilmember Kazi Miah made perhaps the boldest — or at least in-your-face — suggestion: find another city manager.
He said the council should look for a city manager who is less expensive and who might get along better with the city employee unions.
Miah also said he thinks there is plenty of room in the budget to cut.
“I’m in favor of going back to the board and slashing,” Miah said.
Councilmember Jankowski stressed again that it’s up to the city employee unions to agree to contract concessions.
“If you ask me, concessions first, loans second,” Jankowski said.
He suggested that union employees agree to a 20 percent or 12 percent pay cut for now in exchange for repayment later.
He also sarcastically questioned what the council had done – up to this point — to rectify the budget situation.
“Put a town hall meeting together,” he said. “Great.”
Jankowski also noted that this is time for the council to “lead” the city.
“It takes a little more courage, fortitude,” he said.
Councilmember Gordon said that the city is guilty of “irresponsible budgeting.” An example, she said is that some employees are making $8,000 in two weeks and others are making over $100,000 a year.
(In a later interview, Gordon said those examples involve police officers who are earning overtime.)
Mayor Karen Majewski said “playing chicken” with the city unions is not a wise course of action. She said that within six weeks the city will have no money, which will mean employees won’t get paid.
She stressed that there are no “happy solutions,” but at least the state loan will give the city time to work out its financial problems – or at least attempt to.
Councilmember Mohammed Hassan questioned why the city should take a loan and continue to pay the police and fire unions who refuse to agree to concessions. He said the loan money will just end up in their pockets.
He also related, in broken English, that he had two disturbing incidents with the Fire Department’s ambulance service and the response of a police officer for a break-in at his house.
While it was not immediately clear what the circumstances were, Hassan said he was unable to get the Fire department’s ambulance to respond and had to resort to getting an ambulance from Macomb County.
As for the encounter with a police officer, he said the officer said he could not take fingerprints at his house in response to a break-in. He said the officer told him to take up the matter with the City Council, apparently being unaware that Hassan is a councilmember.
He also said that despite owning a home in Warren, he prefers to live in Hamtramck.
And in another aside, he said he could run Hamtramck on a part-time basis with the use of three spread sheets.
City Manager Cooper added he feels confident that he can get contract concessions by going through a labor arbitrator.
Finally, in the vote on whether to apply for a state loan, it was defeated 4 to 2, with Councilmembers Tom Jankowski, Cathie Gordon, Kazi Miah and Mohammed Hassan voting no.
Councilmembers Catrina Stackpoole and Shahab Ahmed voted for the loan.
Still with us, medical marijuana patients?
Let’s go back to a simpler time. The year 1968 and everything was … easy. Lyrics, please, courtesy of The Fraternity of Man from the “Easy Rider” soundtrack:
Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.
Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.

Roll another one
Just like the other one.
This one’s burnt to the end
Come on and be a friend.

Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.
Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.

Ro-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oll another one
Just like the other one.
You’ve been hanging on to it
And I sure would like a hit.

Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me.
Don’t bogart that joint, my friend
Pass it over to me

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