Lame duck council nixes veto, approves dispensary licenses

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 25, 2019

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WARREN — At the final meeting of the Warren City Council’s term Oct. 22, with nearly all of its members set to leave office, the group voted to override a mayoral veto of their approved list of medical marijuana dispensary licenses.

The vote was 5-1. It came without comments or explanations from council members.

Councilman Scott Stevens was absent from the meeting, and Councilwoman Kelly Colegio cast the lone vote against the override of the veto issued by Warren Mayor Jim Fouts earlier this month.

At least seven lawsuits over the city’s handling of its medical marijuana facilities licensing mechanism remained pending, but the override seemingly paves the way for the list of now-approved license holders to begin the process of developing up to 15 medical marijuana provisioning centers in Warren. Their businesses investments are expected to total millions of dollars.

The process in question was marred by allegations of improper scoring, secret meetings and ordinance violations. A judge twice ordered the process halted while attorneys debated the way the list of 65 license applicants was compiled, reviewed and scored.

Councilman Cecil St. Pierre, Ron Papandrea and Steven Warner sat on the city’s Medical Marihuana Review Committee, along with Warren Public Service Director Richard Sabaugh and City Attorney Ethan Vinson. Since late August, committee members testified in court or were questioned by attorneys during depositions in at least two of the pending cases.

Judge Carl Marlinga lifted the most recent order preventing the process from moving forward on Oct. 8, and the council voted 5-2 to approve the review committee’s recommended list hours later. Stevens joined Colegio in voting against the recommendation, and while Sadowski voted to approve it, he indicated that he wasn’t sure how a veto from the mayor would affect his decision.

Fouts took to Facebook a day after the Oct. 22 vote to offer thoughts on a variety of topics, including the override, which he said left him “disappointed” and concerned about the potential for additional lawsuits.

During the portion of the meeting set aside for announcements, council members reflected on their time in office. Council President Cecil St. Pierre, who served 24 years on the council in two separate stints, including 16 years prior to 2003, said, “I want residents to know that when I made a decision, I made it because I thought it was in their best interest.” Councilman Robert Boccomino, who served three terms going back to 2007, said, “I always tell people you don’t have to be good. You have to do the best you can. I think we’ve done that.”

But several residents and candidates seeking council seats spoke at the meeting to blast what was effectively rendered a lame-duck body over how the medical marijuana facilities licensing process was handled and the lawsuits that left behind.

“I thought those little sob stories, we did the best we could, I thought that was really sad. You didn’t do the best you could. You haven’t done the best you could for our neighborhoods,” resident Lori Harris said. “For more than two years, I have come to you about marijuana issues in the neighborhood and you have done nothing to help the neighborhoods with this issue. How is it your best when vacant houses are used for growing marijuana and you have no ordinance with teeth to protect the neighborhood?”

On Oct. 8, St. Pierre said approving the licenses for “a new industry” and “a legal industry” was “an opportunity to improve the city of Warren” and its industrial areas.  

Colegio, who is running to oppose Fouts for mayor this year, has voted against the process from the beginning out of concern over the licensing process and the potential for costly lawsuits.

Both Colegio and Stevens had, on separate occasions, labeled the process “shenanigans.”

Every council member, with the possible exception of Ron Papandrea, will leave the office after the election Nov. 5. Papandrea, appointed to the council’s seat representing District 1 in 2016, is running for election to a four-year term against challenger Melody Magee.

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