By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — The founder of the American Warriors Museum sees a recent order to vacate their office space as an eviction notice from City Hall.
Councilman Herman Ramik, who led the effort to establish the museum, said last week he was “devastated” by a letter dated Monday from Amanda Banas, director of executive affairs, ordering the Museum Commission to vacate space immediately that it had been using as an office because of potential liability issues.
Banas said her letter was prompted by a Feb. 2 letter she had received from Building Inspector William Hollister citing several city code violations of ventilation and space requirements.
Ramik contends that the two letters are a response by Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand to recent tensions between five City Council members, including Ramik, and the mayor.
The five filed a lawsuit against Lamarand challenging his firing of former City Attorney Edward Plato and the council’s confidential secretary, Susan Riddle. That lawsuit went to Wayne County Circuit Court Feb. 5 (see related story).
“He’s basically forcing us into actually closing down the museum,” Ramik said of Lamarand. “He knows that by kicking the commissioners out, where do we go?”
Lamarand said even though no other city commissions have city office space, he’s not trying to force the museum out, and that he voted for its installation in City Hall as a councilman on the premise that money spent by the city to establish it would be recouped from fundraising by the museum’s 40 to 50 volunteers. He also said that as mayor he has taken people on tours of the museum.
Ramik, however, believes the letters asking the commission to leave its space are part of a personal vendetta by Lamarand.
“This is my dream,” Ramik said. “It’s a personal stab to my heart because I’m a veteran. I can’t believe he would use this to get back at me.”
The councilman also questioned the timing of the letters, which were delivered near the time of the court case.
“It’s not a personal attack,” Lamarand said, adding that he has asked friends for display items for the museum. He also said he has allowed the commission to use four closets in his office for extra storage. “Why would I do that if I’ve got something personal against him?” Lamarand said.
The mayor said the inspection of the commission’s office, which he called essentially a “closet,” had been done before the suit went to court, and that Banas’s letter had nothing to do with the case. He also said the museum has grown quickly since its inception and has expanded to include two life-size soldier statues that stand in the lobby at City Hall, and that the office space was too small to house commission members and store items that the museum’s 700 to 800 square feet can’t contain.
The commission’s office is near the mayor’s office, Lamarand said, and that comings and goings related to museum business have been so frequent that even members of former Mayor Cameron Priebe’s staff complained about the situation.
Lamarand said he has had contact with representatives of Wayne County Community College District about seeing if it might be possible to move the museum to the recently vacated Downriver Council for the Arts building on North Line Road near the college’s campus. He also said he has told Ramik about that contact.
“I’ve offered to sit down and have a dialogue and I’m not getting any feedback,” Lamarand said.
The mayor also said the city has spent about $28,000 for lighting, cabinetry and other museum expenses that so far have not been reimbursed by the commission, as well as paying to heat or cool the museum space. Despite the relatively small size, he said, the thermostat must be set near 70 degrees during museum operation hours, which include most of the city work week.
Energy costs were less, Lamarand said, when the space was used to store voting equipment for the City Clerk’s Office.
“We’re not closing the museum,” he said, “but we need to have some dialogue about hours.”
Ramik, in the meantime, said he will find a home for the museum somewhere, “even if I have to beg businesses.”