By ZEINAB NAJM
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK — The city terminated Parks and Recreation Director Patrick Hawkins, following concerns brought by residents to the City Council.
Following a discussion from the public and council, Mayor Gail McLeod called for a vote to terminate Hawkins, and the motion carried unanimously. Councilman Dennis Marcos was absent.
During the July 26 meeting, three Allen Park High School varsity hockey coaches spoke about the difficulty they’ve been having and have had with scheduling ice time for the team.
Andrew Graves, the new head coach, said he has had extreme difficulty scheduling reasonable ice times at the Allen Park Community Center.
“We feel we did not get a fair chance or opportunity, nor any priority over other private skaters at the center when it came to scheduling,” he said. “We have been going back-and-forth with the Parks and Recreation director.”
Graves added that the coaches came up with an alternative schedule, on which they felt they compromised, but there were about a dozen conflicts in the course of five months.
“It’s not our dream schedule, and it was not entertained,” Graves said. “We sent it, and it was not entertained.”
The biggest scheduling issue was practices on Mondays and Tuesdays because the team has games on Wednesdays. On July 25, the coaches went to the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting where a motion was put in place for a small committee to help and compromise again.
“We’re at the point and time where we can’t compromise,” Graves said. “We’ve already compromised 80 percent of our schedule and the 20 percent is practically a dire need for us to have a successful season.”
McLeod said she also was in attendance at the commission meeting where she heard from a number of people who spoke at the council meeting, in addition to some of the parents.
“I also heard a number of the commission members express the same opinion, that they were embarrassed by what happened,” McLeod said. “One individual had spent their weekend trying to work on a schedule and make things right.”
Assistant Coach Matt Grant, who previously coached at Cabrini High School, also spoke at the council meeting. He said he took a break from coaching due to his professional career and because “it got to be a lot dealing with administrative headaches,” such as the one Graves was talking about.
“I never, in all the years that I’ve been coaching, thought I’d have to stand up at city meetings on back-to-back nights asking for practice time for a varsity sport, but we’re in that situation,” Grant said.
“One, our job is to advocate for the student athletes at Allen Park High School” he said. “And if we continue to go down the path that we’ve been going down for the last three of four years, ultimately the kids are the ones that are going to suffer. They’re not going to be given the right opportunity to compete and participate in high school hockey the way that other schools will.”
Grant said he believes that the root cause to the entire situation is incorrect priorities of the person responsible for scheduling ice time at the community center.
“There was a day and time where coaches would sit down with the administration at the community center and negotiate and compromise like adults and come up with solutions in the room over the course of a couple hours on a night in July, just like tonight,” he said.
“Somewhere along the way that stopped happening, and from that point on they have scheduled eight or nine private groups or teams ahead of the Allen Park High School student athletes this year. The most egregious I believe being that some of same ice times that were used last year were just given away to private travel teams without any call, email or conversation to anyone on the coaching staff.”
The practice times proposed by Hawkins were at 4:30 a.m. or from 10 to 11:30 p.m. on school nights, Grant said. Another option Hawkins gave was to seek practice time outside of the city at another rink.
“For me, that’s embarrassing for him to even suggest that, for us to entertain that,” Grant said.
Grant said that when he was the head coach at Cabrini in 2020, he had to hold practices outside the city for the same reason. The team didn’t have enough ice time in Allen Park that worked for the school.
“(Hawkins) would not make accommodations for us and had to skate one or two days a week at Lincoln Park,” Grant said. “I had to explain to other people in the city why we were doing that.”
Historical Commission Chair Nancy Knick said that this was not the first time the Parks and Recreation director has caused programs to leave the city.
“I worked there for five years,” she said, addressing the council. “I’ve heard program after program leave our city. Many of them didn’t come to you and tell you, and I wish they had.”
Knick also said it was not too long ago she was in front of city council for speaking on saving the Creative Characters program.
“We lost dance company, theater company,” she said. “We lost the teaching-children-how-to-cook classes, so it saddens me to look at these gentleman and think we’re going to lose another program. I beg you — and you know some of the things that have been happening there — to look back, and I think it’s time that we let the Parks and Recreation director go.”
Councilman Daniel Loyd said the city has a problem where a department head consistently has undermined relationships with other community organizations to the detriment of the city itself and its citizens.
He made the motion that Hawkins be terminated as director after considering the impact on relationships and the passionate words heard from coaches and members of the community.
Loyd also said people at watching home might think the move is abrupt, but this is something that has been going on within the city for a number of years, and something they’ve heard from past employees and current employees.
He read two emails that he thought gave insight to the situation. The first one was from a school athletic director running a major program within the city.
When the city lost the Creative Characters program, Loyd reached out to the athletic director at Cabrini and asked why they choose to leave.
“After they left and were going to Riverview,” Loyd said, “he said this, ‘On a side note, the coach quit and another was hired, but the contingency stood. Within 24 hours of advising Allen Park ice area of the decision, I received a call stating all of our equipment had been removed, loaded on trucks and delivered to Cabrini. Personally I felt it was a slap in the face because I had or I thought I had a working relationship with the staff there.’”
More recently, Loyd received an email from the APHS athletic director after the council made the decision to renovate the baseball diamonds.
Loyd read: “Spoke to Director Hawkins on April 26 and notified him the baseball and softball diamonds that the district leases from the city need to be turned over to the construction management team on June 12. Upon learning this, Pat had a meltdown saying he was ‘enraged’ and ‘pissed off.’ He quickly relayed to me that he nor his department would no longer cooperate with the school district going forward.”
Loyd finished his comments by saying this situation has gone on since he has been on the city council, and said that he has had enough.
Councilman Charles Blevins asked who would run the program, to which Loyd cited that he has faith in the current department staff, including Deputy Director Rob Fulton.
Councilman Tony Lalli asked where Hawkins was to defend himself, and said he believes what is being said, but asked if there is some kind of trial before firing somebody.
Councilman Gary Schlack said he talked to colleagues about the issue and looked at evidence, and has heard many things since before he was an elected official.
“I’ve come to the conclusion, after hearing time and time again, of issues that have come up that have destroyed programs and have hurt potential employees and made the work environment not the most pleasant place to work in,” he said. “We have to consider all these factors and when it impacts program after program in a city with an outstanding high school that continues to strive as we have seen with our cheerleading teams and softball teams.
McLeod finished off the public comments by saying that as Schlack pointed out, this is not something that has occurred just this year or the past year, but there have been ongoing issues.
“Conversely I will say that we do appreciate all the fine work that Mr. Hawkins did when we came out of receivership, and the fact that the community center and all of our programs had deteriorated extensively under a private company,” she said.
“I commend him for that and the grants and the work he’s done on the parks, because nothing is a single line. There are many facets to every individual, but key is the fact that we are a community, and part of the community is to have good working relationships with the people, schools and organizations in your community. And to care about them and to prioritize them and to make sure that your children and your residents are the first one served and that you do everything in your power to ensure that.
“That has been something that has been degrading for several years and will continue to degrade because of the behaviors we have observed, and dare I say, the attitudes that have been expressed.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)