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.

By Charles Sercombe

The City Council met on April 26, and all councilmembers were present. The meeting ran for two hours and was followed by a closed session.

City Hall Insider has to ask for forgiveness for being the annoying one you heard at the meeting coughing his head off. Sheesh, a tickle cough is true torture. You’d think over-the-counter cough syrup and cough drops would do the trick, but nah.

First up was a presentation by Ronald Orr of the Hamtramck Community Initiative. He spoke specifically on the newly-created Radio Patrol Program, which consists of Hamtramck residents patrolling the city and calling in actual crimes in motion and suspicious people doing something suspicious.

Orr said so far the program has seven volunteers and that he hopes to get at least 20 by summer. All of the volunteers go through a two-hour training program and must pay $15 to cover a background search on them.

Volunteers have a special telephone line that they call directly into the police station to alert officers of a crime in progress.

Orr said he and Tom Stackpoole recently patrolled one evening and came upon two people trying to break into a boarded-up house. He said that they made the mistake of slowing down, thus alerting the two suspects.

When Orr and Stackpoole went around the block and came back, the two suspects were gone.

Keeping an eye open for crime isn’t the only thing the program is geared to do. Volunteers also note the location of abandoned cars, boarded up houses that look like they have been broken into and streetlights that are out.

Orr stressed that volunteers are not supposed to get out of their cars and confront anyone, but to instead call the police station.

“We are not police officers,” he said.

In other communities the patrols have proved to be highly effective. He said Detroit’s Green Acres community saw a 70 percent decrease in crime after one year of their patrols.

Volunteers base what areas to patrol, partly at least, on where the latest crimes have been reported. That information comes from the Police Department’s CLEMIS program, which tracks and pinpoints where crimes occur in the city.

Want to be a patrol member? You have to be a Hamtramck resident and at least 21 years old. The next training session is May 25. For more information, call (313) 281-8160.

Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole encouraged residents to come out this Saturday (April 30) for the annual Hamtramck Clean Sweep. You can join up with other volunteers that day or just concentrate on cleaning up your own property.

In the public comment section of the meeting, a woman questioned a proposed expense of $40,000 to hire a code and parking enforcement officer for the Downtown Development Authority district.

She said in light of the city’s $4 million deficit, the expense seems inappropriate. She was told the DDA budget mostly comes from a special tax fund and partly from the city’s general fund.

Robert Zwolak also chimed in on the DDA proposal, saying code enforcement will only “chase people away.”

He said the proposal is “anti-business,” and that there are plenty of other things that need to be taken care of in the DDA district.

In a review of the city’s list of bills to be paid, Councilmember Cathie Gordon proposed withholding payment to Detroit for water and sewer service since Detroit has failed to hand over a $3.2 million check for money owed from GM’s Poletown tax revenue.

City Manager Bill Cooper advised against that, saying he has reliable information that Detroit officials are about to make good on the check.

The council agreed to OK paying all of the bills – including Detroit’s water bill.

In a short presentation, an auditor who reviewed the city’s 2010 handling of federal monies said there was only one “non-compliance” issue, which he stressed was a minor one that did not violate any laws.

The issue at hand was the demolition of a house that was eventually paid by the city and not through federal funds.
The audit reviewed $1 million in federal funds last year.

In what turned out to be the most controversial topic of the evening, the council discussed at length on whether to hire a code and parking enforcement officer for the DDA.

The job is slated to pay $40,000 a year.

Before things got rolling, City Manager Cooper said he was approached by the city employee union earlier in the day about having the officer also hold the title of parking enforcer. The union said this is already a city job.

After some talk, Cooper agreed to eliminate that part of the title, but the union was agreeable to allow the code enforcement officer to also issue parking tickets when he or she come upon violations.

Councilmember Gordon said she was under the impression that the $40,000 cost was for two jobs, one being strictly for code enforcement and the other for a parking enforcement officer.

Cooper said that is not the case, and that it’s just one person wearing both hats.

Before the council went forward, a vote was held to remove the parking enforcement part of the title from the position. It passed but Councilmembers Mohammed Hassan and Gordon objected.

After a lengthy discussion on the merits and financial ability of the city to pay for the position, the council voted 5-1 in favor to create the position. Councilmember Hassan voted against the proposal.

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