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Mich. City in State of Emergency

November 18, 2000

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) _ Often, rats are the ones who wind up taking care of alleyway garbage in this small working-class city, residents say.

But that could change soon. Michigan has declared the city in a state of emergency and has appointed civic leader Louis H. Schimmel to be the pied piper who takes the rats and garbage away.

Schimmel said Friday he plans to overhaul the system by sucking out fat, greasing wheels and probably firing people and selling off government services to private companies. Residents gave a resounding thumbs up to the news.

``It’s the best thing that ever happened,″ said Ben Jaroslawski, 83, a retired Teamster. ``The old machine won’t accept the new machine around here, and vice versa. They’re spending without a budget. That’s not politics, that’s crazy.″

``We’re broke,″ said Hamtramck Detective David Koehler, spokesman for the local police union. ``And we’re understaffed. I’d like to see the state come audit, and see where the money’s being spend.″

Schimmel, a banker, agreed. The city’s new boss said it’s hardly garbage and rats alone that plague Hamtramck, an ethnic enclave surrounded by the city of Detroit known for a bar per block and heavy union influence.

``Everything’s on the table,″ said Schimmel, who recently completed a total overhaul of the government of Ecorse, a Detroit suburb. ``I replace the mayor and the city council. I’m totally going to run the city now.

``They can’t get paychecks out on time. The records are atrocious,″ said Schimmel, executive director of the Municipal Advisory Council of Michigan. ``I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to get a plan together that’s going to straighten this out.″

Gov. John Engler declared the city in receivership Thursday and appointed Schimmel. Mayor Gary Zych said Friday he welcomes the move.

``I inherited a city ridden with abuses,″ Zych said. ``The work force is larger than the city could afford″ and union contracts have sucked the budget dry.

Political fighting between the mayor’s supporters and opponents in City Hall has also stymied progress. Leaders failed to meet several deadlines by the state to remedy a $2 million deficit. Last year, the city did not adopt a budget.

Since Zych’s election, there have been two attempts to recall him. He faces a third recall vote Dec. 13.

Meanwhile, garbage in the city often did not get removed because of battles between the mayor and the public works department. As a result, residents complained about rampant rats and some courageous souls took to killing the rodents themselves.

``The mayor’s not doing a good job. He’s cutting the police department and not spending elsewhere. If something bad happens, what are we going to do?″ asked Helen Bojanic, 66, as she smoked cigarettes and drank tea at a local coffee shop. ``Let’s see what the state can do with this poor, dilapidated city.″

Auto designer Rich Kowalewski, 41, had more drastic ideas.

``City Council should be locked up in an insane asylum,″ Kowalewski said as he drank beer with buddies in the Paychecks Lounge. ``It’s time to clean house.″

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On the Net: http://www.cityofhamtramck.net/

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