Warren Mayor Jim Fouts presented his proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year on April 12 during a City Council committee of the whole session held by Zoom videoconference.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts presented his proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year on April 12 during a City Council committee of the whole session held by Zoom videoconference.

Screenshot of budget presentation delivered via Zoom video conference.


Frosty times between mayor, council loom over Warren budget

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 19, 2021

Advertisement

WARREN — It’s budget time again. But even as Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and members of the City Council began the process of crafting and approving a spending plan for the coming fiscal year, the battle over last year’s budget was still being waged in Macomb County Circuit Court.

“My goal has always been to serve and protect the citizens of Warren, and this budget reflects that goal and that philosophy of my administration,” Fouts said during his presentation, delivered as a mix of live remarks and a prerecorded video aired over Zoom during a City Council committee of the whole session April 12.

As is typical at the beginning of the annual process, Fouts laid out the highlights of his budget: in this case, a total of $292.4 million in spending, including $128.2 million through the city’s general fund.

“This budget reflects major capital investments designed to protect our citizens and make sure our police and fire departments have adequate equipment, and we’re also building a detention basin,” Fouts said.

Those major capital investments proposed for 2021-2022, Fouts said, include the architectural design phase of a new fire station and new fire vehicles, both financially tied to the Downtown Development Authority district; improvements at the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant; construction of a detention basin and storm drain relief sewers to alleviate basement flooding; parks and recreation improvements; and new equipment for the Water Division.

Council members said little before, during and after the presentation and were expected to hear much more detail about individual departmental budget requests during a full Saturday of hearings April 17, after press time. Budget hearings for city commissions were scheduled for April 19.

Before the mayor’s presentation, Council President Pat Green offered an update about the lawsuit that was still pending between the mayor and the City Council. Through its own outside law firm, Plunkett Cooney, and its attorney, Jeffrey Schroder, the City Council sued Fouts last year over a myriad of issues ranging from access to city contracts and legal opinions to the 2020-2021 budget, the tax rate, appointed positions in the mayor’s office and the role of the city attorney before council.

Green maintained that some of the terms included in a proposed settlement reached in January had not been met, including one that amounted to a change in job title if not in salary for the mayor’s assistant, Amanda Mika.

Green said the budget published on the city’s website as of April 12 failed to include that change. On April 14, the change was finally made.  

“I would note that we gave the mayor ample time and opportunity to correct this before formally requesting judicial intervention to enforce the settlement. However, since we are now entering into the 2021-2022 budget cycle, we will not move forward without having this resolved in the existing budget,” Green said at the meeting.

The “2021 City Adopted Budget,” as published on Warren’s website, was apparently changed April 14, the same day Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Richard Caretti signed an order granting the plaintiffs permission to enforce the settlement agreement and to remove a position of executive assistant in the mayor’s office at the budgeted salary of $78,494. Once accomplished, that would effectively settle the case.

Pursuant to the court order, Mika, now designated as another executive assistant, will retain her salary formerly listed under the title of executive administrator at $90,857. The executive administrator position in the budget at that amount was vacated, and the executive assistant position at the lesser amount was deleted, in accordance with the settlement.  

Fouts and Mika said previously that City Council members had “targeted” her position. The mayor said the “out of control” council went after Mika’s job with “malice” and “without justification.” He said the council had also gone after other members of his administration, including City Attorney Ethan Vinson, whose services were cast aside by the council in favor of their outside legal counsel last year, and, more recently, Jamie Roe, who resigned his appointed position with the city amid a City Council inquiry about his employment, job duties and outside work as a political consultant.

Earlier this month, the mayor said the council’s “reign of political terror” had created a “chilling effect” on city appointees and employees. Asked to speculate about the implications for the city’s budget process at that time, Fouts said, “It’s going to be sheer hell. No council has ever behaved this way.”

But before he ended his budget presentation, the mayor stressed the need for cooperation and collaboration between the administration and the council as they plot how to best spend tax dollars.  

“I’m willing to partner with everybody and anybody to better serve the citizens of Warren,” Fouts said.

He added, “But I hope this will be the end of lawsuits.”

Green later refuted the mayor’s assertion that city employees are afraid to speak to members of the council.

“The employees are not afraid to talk to us. They’re afraid if he finds out they talked to us,” Green said. “The employees tell us, ‘Don’t let him know I talked to you.’”

After the mayor’s presentation, Green also responded to his appeal about collaborative partnership.

“We look forward to the two-way street of people working together, not just a one-way street,” Green said.

He later added, “We’re not a department of the city. We’re a separately elected body whose job it is to determine how the dollars are spent.”

Advertisement