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Council approves mayoral term limit proposal, ballot language

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published July 2, 2020

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WARREN — Warren voters are several steps closer to again revisiting a mayoral term limits proposal as part of what’s sure to be a jam-packed ballot for the presidential election in November.

The proposal, brought to the Warren City Council on June 23 and co-sponsored by Council President Pat Green, Councilman Eddie Kabacinski and Councilman Garry Watts, would let the voters decide whether to again amend the city charter, this time to decrease the number of terms a mayor can serve from five four-year terms (20 years) “back to the original term limit of three terms or 12 years, whichever is greater.”

An overwhelming 77.6% of Warren voters enacted term limits for all city elected officials in 1998 and set that limit at three four-year terms.

In 2014, City Attorney David Griem opined that a 2010 city charter change that cut the size of the City Council from nine to seven members and established two at-large and five district council seats created a bicameral legislature and that term limits could be applied separately to the district and at-large seats for a maximum time on council of six four-year terms, or 24 years.

Griem’s opinion was challenged in April 2015, but a Macomb County Circuit Court judge declined to intervene. As a result, two councilmen —  Keith Sadowski and Cecil St. Pierre — were elected the following November to terms that superseded the original limits.

In 2016, the council approved a ballot measure asking voters to extend term limits for the city’s mayor only — and not the city clerk or treasurer — to five four-year terms. The measure passed with 52.7% voter support during a sleepy August election.

Griem’s opinion was again challenged in 2019 when four council members — St. Pierre, Scott Stevens, Robert Boccomino and Steven Warner — filed to run for terms extending the original limit. The Michigan Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Connor Berdy, and the four incumbent candidates were removed from the ballot.

“The mayor’s term limits extension of 2016 was based on a false conclusion that the City Council can serve many more terms than the mayor due to the city attorney’s loophole,” Green said on June 23. “Now, that’s been overturned. No other reason was cited in the 2016 council resolution, and what we’re doing here is we’re going back and asking the voters to correct what was done under false pretenses.

“We want to put this back on the ballot so we can have consistency across the board between council, the treasurer, the clerk and the mayor’s office,” Green said.

The proposal to place the measure on the ballot passed by a margin of 5-2 on June 23, with Councilman Ron Papandrea and Councilwoman Angela Rogensues voting against it.

Rogensues asked about the possibility of an entire charter revision, to ensure the charter is “relevant and updated.”

“Our charter has a ton of controversy and has led to lawsuits and many, many disputes, and many council members have commented on the record that the charter needs to be revised, updated — it contradicts itself.  I don’t understand why we would take a microview of the charter with one amendment when we can update the entire document to better serve our government,” Rogensues said.  

At a special meeting on June 30 where the 2020-2021 budget was also approved, council members voted unanimously to approve the ballot language.

Council Secretary Mindy Moore clarified that the proposal, if passed by the voters, would not affect the current term of Warren Mayor Jim Fouts.

“The mayor was elected, and he has the right to serve out this term, no matter what happens. This is not a mid-term change of anything,” Moore said.

A veto of the council action was tendered by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and could be taken up by the City Council at its next regular meeting on July 14.

Fouts was elected to his fourth four-year term last November, receiving 57.5% of the vote.

While he voted to enact term limits originally as a member of the City Council in 1998, on July 1, he called it “the worst vote I ever took” and said elections should be decided by the voters, not by limiting the term of office of public officials.

“Why not let the voters decide? That’s the real term limits, at the ballot box,” Fouts said.

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