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Dozens file for Warren city offices as lawsuit lingers

City Council candidates ask judge to rule on controversial term limit question

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 27, 2015

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WARREN — As expected, the list of candidates running for city offices in Warren swelled at the filing deadline April 22. But it remains to be seen who’ll run where, and who will ultimately be deemed eligible to run.

The answers to those questions now hinge on events scheduled for May 4.

All candidates previously had until 4 p.m. April 24 to withdraw from political races. However, the deadline was pushed back 10 days by court order after a lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court questioned whether two candidates — Council President Cecil St. Pierre, who currently represents District 3, and District 2 City Councilman Keith Sadowski — are term-limited and whether they should be kept from the ballot in any council race. 

In December, Warren City Attorney David Griem offered a legal opinion that essentially said Sadowski and St. Pierre are eligible to run.

Griem responded to a request from former Councilman Mike Wiecek, who asked how the voter-approved 2010 decision to reduce the size of the council and create a combination of district-specific and at-large seats affected the city’s imposed term limits. Warren voters overwhelmingly approved a limit of three four-year terms for all city offices in 1998. Wiecek left the council under term limits in 2007.

Griem opined that the Warren City Council is a “bicameral legislature,” and said the voters created two separate and distinct legislative groups — district council members and at-large council members — when they approved the charter amendment in 2010. He also said district and at-large members “have different election rules, job responsibilities and job possibilities,” and noted that each office requires the creation of separate candidate committees. He also noted that the two types represent, and are beholden to, separate and defined groups of constituents.

Council candidate Lanette Olejniczak, who submitted paperwork to run at-large and in District 3 this year, filed a lawsuit in Macomb County Circuit Court on April 17 against the members of Warren’s Election Commission, which is comprised of the city clerk, attorney and assessor. She asked the court to compel the commission to reject Griem’s legal opinion. The lawsuit also asked for a declaratory judgment identifying the office of City Council as “a single office, comprised of seven members, elected from six districts,” and to stipulate that no person may hold that office for more than three four-year terms, or 12 years.

The lawsuit specifically asked that St. Pierre and Sadowski be declared ineligible to run again.

St. Pierre served 16 years at-large between 1987 and 2003. Eight of those years were subject to term limits prior to 1998. St. Pierre ran for what would have been his third and final term in 2011, but he ran in District 3, which would, under Griem’s legal opinion, make him eligible for one more four-year term at-large and two more four-year terms in the district. According to city records, he filed to run in District 3 and at-large this year.

Sadowski served two at-large terms on the City Council before he was elected to what would have been his third and final term in 2011, when he ran in District 2. Under Griem’s interpretation, that would make him eligible to serve another four years at-large and eight more in his home district. He filed to run again in District 2 this year, and filed to run for city treasurer.

The lawsuit also mentioned Wiecek and Mayor Jim Fouts, neither of whom filed to run for City Council. Both Wiecek and Fouts previously served three four-year terms on the council. Wiecek did not file to run for any office this year. Fouts filed to run for a third four-year term as mayor.

In yet another twist, attorney Richard Sulaka II — who filed to run for the Warren City Council in District 2 and at-large, and also filed for mayor — will represent Olejniczak in court. 

Reached by phone April 22, Sulaka said he took the case for free.

“It’s about defending democracy and protecting the will of the people,” Sulaka said. “The term limits, when they were first enacted, clearly applied to any Warren elected office.”

Sulaka argued that none of that changed when the voters trimmed the council from nine members to seven in 2010 and approved the districts and at-large seats.

“No single person on that council has any other authority and additional pay, anything that would even remotely suggest the terms that were used in the city attorney’s opinion. Those words are just not in the charter,” Sulaka said. “It’s unfortunate that now it’s going to cost the taxpayers more money to go and defend what I believe is a very weak legal opinion. If we aren’t the last reasonable voice and all these people walk through, Warren is the new Wild, Wild West.”

City Clerk Paul Wojno confirmed the list of candidate filings but declined to comment on the pending lawsuit. He did confirm that the Election Commission met April 21 and voted to hire outside legal counsel to represent them.

By court order, the hearing on the lawsuit was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 4 before Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Diane Druzinski. The pushed-back filing deadline was set for 4 p.m. May 4.

Warren’s primary election for all city offices will be held Aug. 4.

For more coverage, check www.candgnews.com or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/warrenweekly.

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