OPINION: Hamtramck City Council reached a boiling point, now it’s time for all of us to move forward and expect better.


By Simon Albaugh – Yemeni American News

Simon Albaugh is the Yemeni American News’ Community Reporter for Hamtramck. Over his time with the Yemeni American News, he’s worked closely with City Hall, local businesses and the residents of the city he calls home.

 

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. –  On Dec. 8, Hamtramck City Council met to discuss the final details of the city’s marijuana laws. On one side of the debate were strong supporters of opting-out who used the will of what they saw as a majority of Hamtramck to justify an outright ban on business for the now legal substance.

On the other side were marijuana business supporters who, despite being outnumbered by council votes, tried to to codify who gets grandfathered in, and how the existing businesses should be regulated.

By the end of the meeting, the opt-out members won. And with no desire to compromise, the city is now left with no clear permission of which business will still be able to operate – since a business that has already opened is likely to sue the city for the sum of their investment as well as lost profits if forced to close. There’s also no way of regulating how the businesses should operate.

It’s clear to nearly every observer now that the City Council is seriously lacking in its ability to work together. By the end of the Dec. 8 meeting, one city councilmember resigned on the spot, while the chair of the meeting spent her speaking time talking about the dysfunctional way the city council operates.

It’s time for City Council to take a renewed responsibility for how it functions as a collective body. The only way for this city to have a productive City Council is for every member to acknowledge the differences, and the different realities that are lived by each community, and make every effort to work above those differences.

Pleasantrees, a marijuana provisioning center, sparked the debate around the role Marijuana has in Hamtramck

The Marijuana Issue is the Challenge that beat City Council

While a decision on the marijuana issue was absolutely necessary one way or the other, there are more worries than just those of one side to account for. Without codified regulations, the city is leaving money on the table. The public safety vote that recently took place proves that the regulatory fees shouldn’t be wasted.

Since there’s no clear indication of which businesses will be allowed to stay open, there is no clear path moving forward for those who have already invested in the city. As City Attorney James Allen warned the city council, this leaves the city vulnerable to lawsuits.

Councilmember Ian Perrotta observed that Hamtramck is an ideal place for the marijuana industry for its location between the metro Detroit suburbs and high-paying jobs downtown. An opt-out decision, however late it may have been, is the essential first step to slowing the flow of new businesses coming to this ideal location. But a decision this far past its deadline needs to account for more than just the goal of keeping drugs away from town. On Dec. 8, City Council showed that it’s not able to think past that goal just yet.

At the same time, City Councilmembers who depend on sound governance are often resistant to the unique challenges of Hamtramck’s Yemeni and Bengali population. As Councilman Al-Marsoumi put it: “We know who the majority is. It’s Yemenis and Bengalis… and you have to hear their point of view.”

Every City Councilmember needs to acknowledge that Hamtramck is different for a lot of reasons and one-size-fits-all governance will not account for these differences. Only a genuine understanding of the city’s problems, with fair and forward-thinking decisions can move City Council to a productive force for change in Hamtramck.

If City Council is to work productively, both sound governance and a genuine acknowledgement of the majority of Hamtramck’s challenges is the most important step for City Councilmembers. No City Councilmember is doing a perfect job at these issues. And every City Councilmember needs to do more in order to keep issues like the recent marijuana vote from separating the city’s residents even further.

On Dec. 8, Andrea Karpinski resigned from City Council.

Former Councilmember Andrea Karpinski Calls for Compromise

At the Dec. 8 Council Meeting, Andrea Karpinski submitted an ordinance that would regulate the existing marijuana businesses able to open before Hamtramck’s opt-out decision. The ordinance included items that would restrict marijuana businesses from operating close to schools, create a marijuana licensing procedure that would be subject to annual review as well as limit the amount of businesses that can operate within the city.

This ordinance, along with an amendment that would codify which businesses could be grandfathered into operation in Hamtramck, were struck down by most City Councilmembers. Drawing from the long history of a lack of cooperation, Karpinski says this is why she resigned that night.

“I always voted with the best interest of the community at heart and did my research on the issues I was voting on,” Karpinski said. “Many meetings I would explain my thinking at length to just be disregarded or talked over.”

“With both the marijuana and the enclosed porch issue, there was room to compromise and instead it became a majority vs. minority issue. And it doesn’t have to be one side against the other. The Council is supposed to represent the whole community.”

It’s still uncertain about who could be the next city councilmember to serve. Saad Almasmari is next in line for votes cast, but rumors say that he may be disqualified from serving because of unpaid taxes. At the moment, the next City Councilmember could be either Saad or Carrie Beth Lasley.

Whoever replaces Andrea, they need to begin their service knowing the challenges that they’re inheriting. At the root of Karpinski’s resignation is the lack of compromise in city politics, and anyone who begins work as a city councilmember will need to cultivate this skill first.