DEARBORN HEIGHTS — The Dearborn Heights City Council has been operating for nearly a month with only six members and has failed to appoint a seventh.
A special meeting was held on Monday for the Council to interview candidates.
The first of the candidates interviewed was Zouher Abdel-Hak.
Abdel-Hak has been heavily involved with Council affairs for well over a year as he assisted Councilman Ray Muscat with digging into the city’s financial records, which inevitably led to several lawsuits resulting in a forensic audit. He was even appointed temporary treasurer earlier this year.
During the interviews, Muscat even preemptively addressed Abdel-Hak as a Council member.
“Councilman Zouher, how do you feel or what do you think is the most important thing going on in the city today?” Muscat said. “That’s question number one.”
“I’m going to be very blunt and very honest,” Abdel-Hak said. “Previously, when the new Council members got elected, I did ask the mayor to sit with them a couple times and to get to know them, because I can feel and I can see what’s going on and what’s coming ahead. But that didn’t happen. There is no trust between the Council and the administration and this is costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Councilman Bob Constan asked Abdel-Hak why he should be appointed and then questioned where Abdel-Hak lives.
“You are a lawyer right?” Abdel-Hak said. “Your residency, where is it? Isn’t where you sleep at night? I’m just asking you a legal question. I own the house, I pay taxes there and I have been there for 28 years. I have two kids living in West Dearborn and I know where you are going with this. Where I sleep, where I live, where I eat and where you have visited, is Dearborn Heights.”
Mo Baydoun, who ran in the last City Council election and lost by roughly 100 votes, was next to be interviewed for the vacant position.
“Any decision that I were to make would be for the residents of the city of Dearborn Heights,” he said. “I am not aligned or tied with anything but the residents. A community is a group of people that agree to work together.”
Councilman Bill Bazzi asked what the level of participation from Baydoun has been.
“Not as much as I would like to be,” Baydoun said. “Being recently married and a new homeowner and renovating my home and opening up a new business in the city of Dearborn Heights, I have not been as involved as much as I wanted to.”
Councilman Dave Abdallah asked what weaknesses and strengths Baydoun has.
“I’m not going to tell you that I’m the most knowledgeable,” he said. “But what I will tell you is that I am a quick learner and I’m going to sit on this Council and learn; and the route that is best for the residents and constituents of Dearborn Heights is the route that I’m going to go.”
Nancy Bryer, a resident known for hosting neighborhood watch meetings in the Southend pre-pandemic, was interviewed next.
“I’ve lived in the house that I am currently in since 1946 until I got married in ‘63,” said Bryer, who was appointed to the Women’s Commission and the Van Born Corridor Commission by Mayor Daniel Paletko and is also president of the South Dearborn Heights Civic Association. “I even kept in touch when I was out of state. I believe I can calm down the atmosphere that we currently have amongst some of the Council members.”
Councilman Tom Wencel asked what would be Bryer’s main goal on the City Council.
“I do think we’ve got to work on that charter,” she said. “And I do think I would be helpful in the committee for that.”
William “Toby” Zurenko, a resident of Dearborn Heights since 2018, interviewed last for the vacant seat on the Council.
“When we were looking for a home, we zeroed in on Dearborn Heights as the place to live,” he said. “We chose Dearborn Heights because of it being a bedroom community; we were impressed by the public services and the low property taxes.”
When asked, Zurenko admitted to not attending Council meetings.
“I pay attention to local news sources and I do read the agendas on a regular basis,” he said. “I don’t have any direct contact with anyone on the current issues.”
The six members of the City Council were set to appoint a seventh member during their regular meeting on Tuesday. However, they couldn’t reach an agreement.
Bazzi, Muscat and Wencel voted for Abdel-Hak, while Council Chairwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell, Constan and Abdallah voted for Baydoun.
Malinowski-Maxwell said that while she was threatened and bullied by another Council member, she refused to change her vote.
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but in regards to replacing the seat on Council, I have personally received a lot of calls, texts, emails and one text could have possibly been a violation of the Open Meetings Act if I didn’t write in there to not respond,” she said. “I don’t react well to threats or being bullied. I was threatened and I was bullied for who I should vote for. I am an adult. I adore Mr. Abdel-Hak with all my heart, but this is not about a friendship or popularity contest. The reason I chose who I chose when I voted is because in my eyes, the residents showed their support for a certain individual who got out there and ran and came in number five out of 11. I didn’t appreciate the calls and texts that I got in regards to it as I would never do that to somebody else. I am disappointed, to say the very least.”
The Council will revisit the topic in two to four weeks, depending on when it holds its next regularly scheduled Council meeting.