City names new department head

Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Mayor Daniel Paletko has appointed Ron Amen to be the new director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department.

Amen will look to fill the leadership gap that has existed in the department since former director Hassane Jamal’s controversial firing in June.

Jamal currently is suing the city and Paletko on claims that he was fired for refusing to skirt federal contracting and employment regulations, allegedly at the behest of the mayor. The suit contends that part of the reason for Jamal’s firing was his Arab heritage.

Amen, who is also an Arab, assumes the $66,000-a-year job after four years of double duty as the museum facilities manager for Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services and the operations manager for the Arab-American National Museum, both in Dearborn. Prior to that, he served as a deputy Wayne County Sheriff and also as an assistant for economic development to County Executive Robert Ficano.

Amen said his top agenda item would be stimulating economic growth along the Warren Avenue business corridor. He said already he has been brainstorming with business owners on how to create incentives for new developments and eventually would like to see the district grow into something like the booming Warren Avenue shopping district between Wyoming and Greenfield in Dearborn.

“My predecessor seemed to focus on the community aspect of the position, through (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) home improvements, and I think those are great, worthy programs,” Amen said. “But the job is also supposed to include economic development, and that’s something I really want to do more of.”

Amen, who worked with Jamal on projects during his time with the county, said he has not been insulated from the controversy surrounding his position. While most people have been congratulatory of his new gig, he said, there is a “small but very vocal” minority that have been less welcoming.

The controversy also has created factions between city officials. At the Nov. 12 City Council meeting, where Amen’s appointment was announced, Councilwoman Janet Badalow asked Paletko how Amen was chosen for the position.

“Are you working for the city or are you working for the people suing the city?” said Paletko, who has declined to answer public questions related to the lawsuit.

But Amen brings with him a reputation as a bridge builder. In May, Amen was given a Community Peacemaker award from the Wayne State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies for “spreading peace.”

Former colleagues think he is well suited to the position as well.

“Aside from his professionalism and dedication to hospitality and customer service, he has graciously helped me navigate many culturally nuanced situations I could not have managed on my own,” said AANM Communications Director Kim Silarski.