Warren council overrides mayor’s veto of amended budget

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published June 9, 2021


WARREN — The Warren City Council passed an amended budget for the coming fiscal year on May 11.  Two weeks later, as expected, they voted to override Mayor Jim Fouts’ veto of their amended city spending plan for 2021-2022.

“The veto is overridden. The council’s budget is established,” Warren City Council President Pat Green said, after the unanimous vote was taken on May 25.

Council members were given hard copies of the mayor’s proposed $292.4 million total budget prior to his presentation, delivered by Zoom video on April 12. The City Council held Zoom sessions to conduct budget hearings for individual city departments and commissions on April 17 and April 19. On April 30, the council held a special meeting to formally request more information.

With questions lingering, they voted 6-1 to approve the second reading of the budget on May 11.

Fouts then vetoed the budget that included the council’s amendments on May 14.

In a letter to the council announcing the veto, he said that Warren’s charter “does not grant the City Council the authority to propose and adopt its own budget” and that the council “may only act upon the budget proposed by the Mayor.” He added, “Any action taken that does not adopt the budget as presented must therefore be deemed to be a rejection,” and stated that the council had “no legal authority” to adopt its own budget.

“They’ve chosen to just issue a unilateral declaration saying this is the way it will be. It’s always a compromise between the mayor’s budget and what the City Council would like,” Fouts said on June 1, after the veto was overridden. “Again, they’ve chosen to disregard that aspect of civility and respect.”

Fouts said “in the spirit of compromise” he accepted City Council amendments adding a horticulturist for the Parks and Recreation Department, a raise for the deputy council secretary, five more police officers and an amended water rate increase.

City Council members filed a lawsuit against the mayor last year over numerous points of contention, including a protracted budget impasse, after he rejected their changes affecting positions in the mayor’s office and spending through the Downtown Development Authority.

Now, it looks like another court fight might be brewing.

Attorney Jeff Schroder of the Plunkett Cooney law firm, hired by the City Council to represent them, said the mayor is taking a position that the City Council “has to approve his budget as submitted,” which he said goes against the city charter and state law.

“Only the City Council has the authority to approve a budget,” Schroder said.

“This is how it works at all levels of government, for representative government for hundreds of years in this country. The legislative body passes a budget. There is no language in the charter or anywhere else that supports a position that you must adopt his budget without making any amendments,” Schroder said.

Warren City Councilman Eddie Kabacinski, who voted in favor of the override but said he was uncomfortable with several points in the council-approved budget, asked when a potential budget impasse between the mayor and council would become “untenable.”

While a resolution to last year’s budget battle was brokered in Macomb County Circuit Court by Judge Richard Caretti earlier this year, the new budget won’t take effect until July 1.

“It’s untenable when you have expenditures being made that are not authorized by an appropriation of council,” Schroder said.

Councilman Garry Watts said he believes a return to court is inevitable.

“I have to tell you, if we go to court twice, he needs to be removed from office,” Watts said. “This is unacceptable behavior.”

Should the council-approved budget not be published and implemented next month, Councilman Jonathan Lafferty said the City Council would have no choice but to again press the matter legally.

“By the very nature of this veto, should we override tonight, which I believe we are going to do, if he challenges this or if he refuses to implement the amended budget as every council prior to us has done throughout his historical tenure as the chief executive of Warren, it will not be this council that is taking him to court because we want to. It is because we have to,” Lafferty said. “It is our charter duty to enforce the charter and defend our rights granted to this body through the charter. And the mayor has no basis for taking this action.”

Lafferty added, “Yes, I do not disagree that he has the power of the veto. But he must also use that veto within the authority granted to him by the charter. He does not have any legal precedent to do so.”