Council-approved budget vetoed by mayor, override likely

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published May 24, 2021

 On April 30, the Warren City Council held a special meeting to formally request “additional budget information/clarification.”

On April 30, the Warren City Council held a special meeting to formally request “additional budget information/clarification.”

Photo taken from Zoom video meeting

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WARREN — The budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year was passed by the Warren City Council on May 11. Their “rejection” of the mayor’s proposed budget was vetoed by Mayor Jim Fouts three days later.

It’s the latest battle in a war between elected officials over financial control, clarity with regard to expenditures and access to information.

“My full expectation is that we’re going to override the veto at the next meeting,” Warren City Council President Pat Green said on May 21. “I’m more concerned right now about the responses we’re getting to questions about the accounting. We’re asking for detailed backup.”

The council would need five of seven votes to override the veto and could do so at its May 25 meeting, after the Warren Weekly went to press.

Last year, a protracted dispute over positions in the mayor’s office and the tax rate were part of a lawsuit the City Council filed against Fouts in Macomb County Circuit Court. The sides reached an apparent agreement in January, but the dispute smoldered into April, when a settlement brokered by Judge Richard Caretti was finally effectuated.

Now, it looks like several burning questions could be rekindled. Titles and positions in the mayor’s office, and spending through the Downtown Development Authority, have again emerged as flashpoints.

“The city charter mandates that the budget should be in place by the third week of May. Otherwise, there’s a charter violation,” Fouts said on May 20.

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 “additional budget information/clarification.”

With several questions still lingering, the City Council voted 6-1 to approve the second reading of the budget on May 11. Council member Eddie Kabacinski voted against it, taking issue with “election expenses” and “election integrity,” and the included funding for a chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer.

Fouts vetoed the council’s action to approve a budget that included their amendments on May 14.

“The City Charter does not grant the City Council the authority to propose and adopt its own budget — it may only act upon the budget proposed by the Mayor,” Fouts wrote in his notice of veto, sent to City Clerk Sonja Buffa and copied to Warren City Council Secretary Mindy Moore and City Controller Richard Fox. “Any action taken that does not adopt the budget as presented must therefore be deemed to be a rejection.”

Fouts added that the council has “no legal authority” to adopt its own budget.

“It’s ridiculous,” Moore said on May 20, when asked about the veto. “Now he’s vetoing it because he says the council doesn’t have the right to adopt the budget.”

Moore said changes were even made to the budget by the administration after it was presented to the council this year. Those included the addition of an assistant city attorney, a title change and an added position in the mayor’s office, and the addition of funding for a scholarship program through the Beautification Commission.

The council later agreed to amend the budget to include the $1,200 in scholarships and to consider adding another assistant city attorney later, should the need arise after one currently vacant position is filled.

Moore said the position in the mayor’s office was eliminated from the budget last year and upheld by court order as part of the settlement in the council’s lawsuit, and that a change in title was therefore not possible.

Green and Moore pointed out that by vetoing the budget, the mayor effectively said no to the council’s amendments that also included the addition of five police officers — on top of five requested by the administration — and an emergency medical services coordinator in the Fire Department.

“We want a safe city and we want to move the city forward. He just wants to fight with us,” Green said. “Council dictates policy through the budget. Whether he spends it or not, that’s up to him.”

About the mayor’s veto, Green added, “The ability to amend something that’s been proposed to us is within our authority. If it’s not, what’s the point of having public hearings on the budget? What’s the point of having departmental hearings? What’s the point of having a presentation?”

While declining to comment on a potential override vote ahead of the council’s next meeting, Fouts said he hoped the matter could be resolved.

“That’s going to be up to them,” Fouts said. “I don’t intend to go to court.”

The mayor has maintained that the City Council targeted members of his administration, including his executive assistant, Amanda Mika, City Attorney Ethan Vinson and Jamie Roe, an appointee who resigned after his job as a clerical technician in the mayor’s office fell under council scrutiny.

“They can’t target individual people. When we had the budget hearing, they wanted the name of every person who works in each department,” Fouts said.  

He added: “They don’t even understand what they’re job is. They’re a legislative body. They’re not administrators.”

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