Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Big Trouble in Little Hamtown

Hamtramck, Michigan - Photo by Andrew Jameson
I have recently spoken with current and former employees of the City of Hamtramck. Three reputable sources have told me that the State of Michigan’s Emergency Manager, Cathy Square, has made a series of highly offensive remarks about race, ethnicity, age, gender, and sexual orientation while in the workplace and that she continues to do so.

Those sources have also told me that the incident was reported up the chain of command.

Cathy Square, for those who do not remember her name, was a long-time close associate of Kwame Kilpatrick. She served as his chief operating officer towards the end of his administration. As such, she ran much of his operations.

Here are a few examples, each of which was confirmed by current and/or former employees and described by one as “the very tip of a large iceberg.”

During a meeting where the possibility of bike lanes in Hamtramck was discussed, Square stated, “Seriously, how am I supposed to deal with these crazy ass Bengali drivers. We can’t have bike lanes with these Bengali drivers - they'll kill everyone.” This in a city with a large population that is of Bengali descent.

Not to be outdone by that, in a different meeting when the possibility of greater collaboration between the Cities of Hamtramck and Highland Park was suggested as a way to save money and also to qualify for more funding from the State’s Economic Vitality Incentive Program, she vetoed the idea. When asked why, Square (who is black) reportedly launched into a lengthy diatribe:
You know, I used to work there. You think it's crazy here? Highland Park is all crazy ass black people. Do you know what is wrong with most black people? Don't be telling people I told you this, but sometimes I need to pinch myself, 'Am I really black?' Crack was the fall of the black community. And no one wants to read or work. That's what ruined the black community.
As for the long-term prospects of the City of Hamtramck, Square does not appear to hold much confidence. She reportedly told one employee, "It doesn't matter what I do here. These white people are crazy. There is going to be another EM in a few years because the same crazy residents are just going to vote in the same crazy council members again."

I spoke to another employee on condition of strict anonymity. When I asked why no one else had come forward or reported anything, they reported to me that “Everyone is afraid for their jobs!” and that after the firings everyone saw how complaints would be handled. “It reinforced that she (Square) has complete autonomous power and no one up there (in Lansing) cares.”

There are many things about this matter that bother me.

First and foremost, there are the utterly offensive and inappropriate comments that have no place in 2013 America. It was simply wrong for Square to make such comments about “crazy Bengalis” in Hamtramck or black folks in Highland Park.

I am also troubled by the disparity in how similar situations were handled in two different cities under state-control. When reports were made that Jim Bonsall, the former chief financial officer for the City of Detroit, made similar comments in the workplace an investigation was conducted and Bonsall was quickly fired. When Square says such things in Hamtramck, though, no action is taken even months after it gets reported directly to the State Treasurer.

The whole thing simply seems wrong. It’s time for Governor Rick Snyder and our new State Treasurer Kevin Clinton to rectify this matter.

There will no doubt be additional twists and turns in this saga before it is played out. I will, of course, cover them here.

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