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Out of their trees

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You’d think that planting hedge maples, dogwoods and other trees in Hamtramck would be as welcome as free pierogis. But then again, we’re talking about a city where the choice of design of a public trash bin caused a six-month skirmish among civic leaders not so long ago.

Last Saturday, about a dozen volunteers planted nine trees at Zussman Park, near the entrance to City Hall. Preserve Our Parks (POP), founded by Hamtramck residents in 1996, donated the trees (they cost about $5,000) and agreed to maintain them for three years.

The group had planned to plant 30 more trees that day on the berms along Yemans Street between Conant and Gallagher, says Phillip Kwik, POP president. But last month it received a letter from city operations director, Joe Sobota, instructing POP that “city finances” required him to insist that those trees not be planted.

The letter puzzled Kwik since POP is donating the trees, labor and maintenance.

“It really doesn’t make logical sense,” he says.

Perhaps Kwik, who sat for several years on Hamtown’s City Council (and, incidentally, was part of the trashcan fracas), should have known what to expect.

However, in News Hits’ experience, Sobota, who did not return our calls, has always been a levelheaded bureaucrat. So, what gives? Kwik suspects Sobota’s boss, Louis Schimmel, Hamtramck’s emergency financial manager, is behind the planting prohibition.

Schimmel, who has butted heads with Kwik in the past (and refers to the POP prez as “Little Prince Phillip”), denies nixing the plantation.

“I never said no. I never ever said no,” he insists.

What Schimmel did do is tell Sobota that if POP planted trees on the berms, the roots might tear up new sidewalks and curbs, causing citizens to trip and sue the city. That’s what prompted Sobota’s letter to POP.

“The distance between the sidewalk and road is about two feet and it doesn’t make any sense to plant trees in that area,” says Schimmel, who seems to think that POP drew the same conclusion.

Kwik says POP recently got approval from the City Council and mayor to plant the trees on the berms and plans to do so April 17. What will Schimmel do then?

“I’ll have to think about it,” he says. “My job is to try and prevent unnecessary costs to the city and it’s a tough issue because there could be a cost a few years down the line. But if they want to be dumb, be dumb.”

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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