Ramona's picture

    Daylight in the Garden of Good and Kowalski

    Hamtramck is a tiny city completely surrounded by big Detroit.  It has almost nothing in common with Motown except that they're both temporarily under the thumb of appointed, not elected, emergency managers.  

    As with Detroit, Hamtramck's EM has far-reaching and unassailable dictatorial powers.  Hamtramck, like Detroit, is broke, and, according to the emergency managers in both towns, the only way to save them is to sell off an valuable assets--even those that make these towns what they are.

    In Detroit, that could be (and very well might be) the venerable, world class Art Institute, but tiny Hamtramck has no such booty.  What they do have is a lovely community garden, thanks to a five-year adopt-a-lot agreement put in place by the mayor in 2011, giving the community necessary protection, along with an incentive to keep those gardens--now called Hamtown Farms--going.

    Photo credit:  Hamtown Farms
      But strange as it may seem to those of us who see more value in the community garden part than in the worth of vacant lots, Cathy Square, Hamtramck's EM and resident carpetbagger (in place since way back in June), decided on her own that since the Kowalski Sausage Company next door wanted the garden lots for themselves, (and since a lawsuit restricting the sale of city-owned lots had ended) she should just go ahead and sell them.

    Since Hamtown Farms had already invested over $40,000 into their gardens, they thought, based on lot prices in the area, an offer of $2500 for five lots would be fair.  Kowalski countered with $3000, a mere $500 more. Hamtown Farms saw the writing on the wall and figured that was the end.

    When citizens got wind of the potential sale and caused a bit of a stink, mainly because those five city lots sat empty for over 30 years before they were rescued and turned into gardens, Ms. Square was miffed.  Okay, then, she said.  Not worth the hassle. I've made the decision to put them up for auction, instead.  So before anybody could ask, Isn't that, like, still selling them? the bids were opened.

    After a protracted bidding war, Hamtown Farms ended up with the winning bids on three of the five lots, but at almost 10 times their original offer.   Kowalski paid $11,000 for the lot with the planted trees, a loss that saddens those who had been nurturing those trees.

    But thanks to donors and an Indiegogo fund drive, it looks like Hamtown Farms will get to keep their gardens

    No thanks to Kowalski Sausage.  Whatever happened to public relations, particularly when you're a Polish sausage maker in what was once a traditionally Polish city? The Emergency Manager decreed that all vacant lots in Hamtramck must be sold, so surely there were others nearby that would have suited them just as well.

    Considering how much more those lots ended up selling for (far more per lot than any other in the city), you have to wonder what happened there?  Kowalski could have bought two or three lots for what they paid for that single treed lot in the Gardens.  Why were they so stuck on that one?  And what are they going to do with it?

    Even more puzzling, why were those particular lots targeted by the EM, when initially they weren't worth that much money and have become such a happy part of the community?  There's no figuring out those bottom-liners.  That's because they're all about the bottom line.  The wants and needs of the people will always take a back seat until they've finished them.  And when they're finished with them they'll be gone.

    I live for the day when the lawsuits against Emergency Managers in Michigan are settled and won.  Last November, as everyone but Gov. Snyder seems to remember, the people of Michigan voted down the Governor's plan for Emergency Managers, but his administration sidestepped the will of the people and installed them, anyway.

    Hamtramck's EM won't have the kind of clout that Detroit's EM, Kevyn Orr has, but going after a successful community garden where empty lots once stood and making them pay exorbitant rates in order to keep it, tells me all I need to know about where Cathy Square is coming from--and where she's headed.

    If I lived in Hamtramck, I wouldn't take my eyes off of her for even a second.

    (Big H/T to Eclectablog for bringing this story to light.  For a  PBS video clip about Hamtown Farms, go here.  If you would like to donate to Hamtown Farms, go here.)




    Municipalities, indian reservations and, of course, countries are sovereign borrowers.  The biggest mistake they can make is to sell assets for the benefit of creditors.  Unlike corporate borrowers, they cannot be forced to do this.  If you loan to a corporation and it defaults, you can seize its assets.  If you loan to a sovereign, you cannot.  Everybody knows this, especially bond investors.  You do not get to liquidate Detroit or Greece.  Such sales can only happen if panicked or corrupt people in power choose that course of action.  It is always a mistake.

    In Michigan we've got ourselves in a situation where the central government can do what they want.  Somehow they've finagled that power and so far nobody, even the legal eagles, has figured out a way to stop them.

    They're making many mistakes--HUGE mistakes--and they are mistakes we'll never be able to fix.  Once they've sold everything or torn it down, it's done.  You can imagine how the people in Detroit who know this are feeling right now.  It's like watching a loved one you believed you could save fall into a coma, knowing there are people who could have done something but didn't; knowing there are people who could still do something but won't.

    Latest Comments