Green demands resignations of city attorney and clerk

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published June 16, 2023


WARREN — Warren City Council President Patrick Green has demanded the resignations of City Attorney Ethan Vinson and City Clerk Sonja Buffa after last month’s Michigan Court of Appeals decision that will allow him to finish his term on council.

“We now have three unanimous published opinions from the Court of Appeals (and one Supreme Court ruling) rejecting their political shenanigans with our City Charter,” Green said in a written statement. “I say ‘three strikes and you’re out’ to the clerk and city attorney, and they should both resign.”

In the statement, Green said Vinson illegally attempted to appoint Boike to Green’s Warren City Council seat in November 2022 and that Buffa improperly administered the oath of office to Boike.

Vinson stands firm with his position and legal standing.

“He (Green) can call for my resignation all he wants. I’m not going to resign,” said Vinson. “I still believe the position I take was legally sound.  I believe the court was incorrect.”

In a written response, Buffa said, “Mr. Green’s request for my resignation is insipid and lacks any semblance of intellectual justification. I cannot dignify his ludicrous comments that are mean spirited lacking any substance. He has had years to communicate positively, but instead has become a voice in Warren that continues to push our city backwards.”

One of the three strikes Green is referring to is the May 22 Michigan Court of Appeals decision in the Gary Boike v. Patrick Green case. The Court of Appeals upheld Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Julie Gatti’s opinion of March 2022, that Green had not exceeded his term limits of the greater of three complete terms or 12 years as outlined in the charter. It was a unanimous decision by the panel of three judges, consisting of Judge Mark J. Cavanagh, Judge Elizabeth L. Gleicher and Judge Colleen A. O’Brien.

This case started in November 2022 when, according to Green, Vinson advised him to vacate his seat on the council because Green had served more than the greater of three complete terms or 12 years. According to Boike’s legal counsel, in November 2022, Green had served 13 years.           

Green served two complete terms on the Warren City Council prior to his election in 2019. The first term was from 2007 to 2011, and the second term was from 2011 to 2015. Green was reelected in 2015 and served approximately 13 months before he resigned to fill a vacancy in the Michigan House of Representatives. Green ran for the council again in 2019 and was elected with the most votes in the at-large council race, making him mayor pro tem.

The Warren city charter states that if an at-large council seat is vacated, the next highest vote-getter in that election who did not finish in the top two is eligible to fill the position. Boike received the third-most votes in the 2019 election for the at-large seat. Therefore, if Green were no longer eligible to continue his tenure on council, Boike would have been the next in line to fill the position.

The second strike, according to Green, was the April 21 Court of Appeals ruling that resulted in the removal of Warren Mayor James Fouts from the 2023 election ballot. In the Warren City Council v. Sonja Buffa and the Warren Election Commission case, it was determined that in November 2023, Fouts would have completed four terms and would have exceeded the term limits, making him ineligible to run.

“If they just interpreted our city charter fairly, without bias or against any candidate or official, then we would have saved hundreds of thousands in legal fees,” Green said in the written statement.

Different courts have ruled differently in the interpretation of the charter and term limits. Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Toia’s decision previously allowed Fouts to run for an additional term because of the omission of the specific words “any terms or years served prior to this amendment are included.” These words were not included on the “Proposal” section of the ballot, which Toia described as the section where the voters mark yes or no. The words were also not included in Warren’s amended city charter.

The same three jurists who upheld the decision in the Boike v. Green case, allowing Green to finish his term on council, overturned Toia’s ruling and removed Fouts from the ballot.

The third strike, according to Green, was the Connor Berdy v. Sonja Buffa lawsuit. The Michigan Supreme Court decided on June 11, 2019, to remove four City Council incumbents from the ballot because they had exceeded term limits. Since the court decision was made in June after the April filing deadline, no other candidates could enter the race. Some residents contend that limited the candidate pool.

City Council Member Ron Papandrea addressed this in a previous interview with the Warren Weekly.

“Four years ago, four incumbent candidates (on the Warren City Council ballot) were taken off the ballot due to term limits. Their removal from the ballot was after the filing deadline, so nobody else could run,” Papandrea said. “You have a strong incumbent; you’re not going to run against that person. But if you know they’re going to be taken off the ballot, you would file. The only people who filed were inferior candidates. And they got elected.”

In Warren, the city attorney position is appointed by the mayor. The clerk is an elected office.

“The council cannot force the clerk to resign,” said Green. “We cannot continue to have this type of obstruction of our laws and ordinances because the clerk is taking orders from the city attorney. The clerk is elected by the people and works for the people.”

“The city attorney has an ethical obligation to resign. The city charter states that the city attorney is ‘directly responsible’ to the council,” Green added. “The council has approved seven reform ordinances that the city attorney and clerk are obstructing because they will not publish them.”

Vinson defended his decision not to publish the ordinances.

“First of all, the clerk (Buffa) has nothing to do with it. So, I don’t know why he insists on blaming her,” said Vinson. “Many of those (ordinances) were improperly enacted; therefore, I am under no obligation to publish them.”

Vinson also said, “I serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”

Buffa responded to Green’s statement including her in his allegations about obstructing ordinances.

“It’s unfortunate Mr. Green, who has served many years on the City Council, still fails to comprehend proper procedures for conducting city business,” said Buffa. “The publication of ordinances has been the same during my 23 years in the clerk’s office. All council ordinances continue to be sent to the city attorney for review, and our office then publishes (ordinances) upon city attorney approval.”

Green, who is running for mayor this year, was asked about potentially working with Buffa, who is seeking reelection as the city’s clerk.

“I have worked with Sonja Buffa for many years, and if the voters reelected her, I would work with her in the future,” Green said. “But if any clerk or official is going to violate the law, I am going to actively oppose those efforts because it is my duty.”