Sides offer final thoughts on mayoral term limits proposal

Fouts urges “no” vote, says proposal targets him. Proponents say term limits should be equal.

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published October 23, 2020

 City Council President Pat Green said the effort to put the measure on the ballot seeks fairness and equal limits for all city elected officials. But Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, now in the second year of his fourth term of office, said the proposal was clearly aimed directly at him by an adversarial council that fights him every step of the way.

City Council President Pat Green said the effort to put the measure on the ballot seeks fairness and equal limits for all city elected officials. But Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, now in the second year of his fourth term of office, said the proposal was clearly aimed directly at him by an adversarial council that fights him every step of the way.

Photo by Brian Louwers

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WARREN — The lines are drawn. The signs are up. The literature is in your mailbox.

In addition to electing leaders at the county, state and national level, Warren voters will get to choose how long the city’s elected mayors should serve. Again.

The proposed ballot language put forth by a majority vote of the Warren City Council this summer, vetoed by the mayor, overridden by the council and challenged in court by the city clerk, who was later ordered to certify it by the Michigan Court of Appeals, will appear on the ballot as follows:

“A proposal to require the office of mayor to have the same term limits as other city elected offices.”

The language that follows reads:

“The proposed amendment would require all city-elected offices to have the same term limits of three (3) terms or twelve (12) years. Currently, the office of mayor has a limit of five (5) terms or twenty (20) years, and the offices of city council, clerk, and treasurer have a limit of (3) three terms or twelve (12) years. Any terms or years served prior to this amendment are included.     

“Should the office of mayor in Warren have the same term limits as other city elected offices, which is the greater of three (3) complete terms or twelve (12) years?”

City Council President Pat Green said the effort to put the measure on the ballot seeks fairness and equal limits for all city elected officials.

“We believe that all of the elected officials in the city of Warren should have equal term limits,” Green said.

But Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, now in the second year of his fourth term of office, said the proposal was clearly aimed directly at him by an adversarial council that fights him every step of the way.

“They can’t control me. They can’t beat me. They come up with term limits,” Fouts said.

Elected mayor in 2007, Fouts would have exhausted his time in office in 2019 but was permitted to run again after voters narrowly passed a two-term, eight-year extension of eligibility for the city’s mayors only in 2016. He said those pushing the proposal now want to circumvent the will of the people.

“This election is all about a power grab,” Fouts said. “It’s all about the fact that the City Council, specifically one or two or three of the council members, want to be mayor, and the only way they can become mayor is to eliminate the competition.”

He continued, “Every one of these council members ran on a litany of issues, and not one of those issues was term limits. And then, out of the blue, term limits becomes their top priority and probably their only accomplishment on the City Council.”

Warren’s electorate overwhelmingly favored term limits in 1998 when the original limit of 12 years and three four-year terms received 77.6% of the vote. Fouts said he was one of eight council members at the time who voted to put the measure on the ballot but that he now regrets it.

“It was the dumbest vote I ever did in my life, but I got caught flat-footed,” he said. “Real term limits are done at the ballot box. It’s not telling someone they can’t run.”

Fouts added, “I basically spent my war chest on my campaign” on signs, literature and advertising to fight passage of a proposal now set to go before voters during a presidential election that is expected to have a historically high turnout.

“Clearly, this is Jim Fouts’ election. If term limits pass, I don’t get a chance to campaign for reelection,” Fouts said. “I do think that if Pat Green or one of the others becomes mayor, they won’t be doing what I’m doing. Doing what I’m doing means your life is your job and your job is your life. I challenge anybody else to do that.”

He added, “This is the only profession I know that suddenly people have decided that more experience means you’re worth less. That makes no sense.”

Green said the 2016 ballot proposal to make Warren mayors eligible for an additional two terms would never have made it on the ballot if not for an incorrect opinion offered by former City Attorney David Griem.

In 2014, Griem wrote that a 2010 change to the city charter that cut the size of the council from nine to seven members and established five City Council districts and two at-large seats created a bicameral legislature. As a result, he said the term limits of three four-year terms for council members should be applied separately to district and at-large seats, allowing for a maximum time on the council of six terms, or 24 years.

A series of legal challenges followed, but Griem’s interpretation was eventually struck down by a Macomb County Circuit Court judge. The case went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, where the decision was upheld.

As a result, Green said the original term limits enacted in 1998 should apply to all city elected officials.

“His name’s not anywhere on this,” Green said. “This was about correcting an error. The world does not revolve around him. This is correcting a previous error, and that’s the end of it. Who’s not in favor of fair and equal?”

Green said materials declaring “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” encouraging a “yes” vote on the proposal, were paid for through donations and support from the Warren Area Democratic Club.  

“The decision to get involved really had less to do with anybody specifically in office and just the belief that this was done because there was a misinterpretation of the charter that was allowing City Council members to run for longer than the charter actually allowed,” said Jeremy Fisher, the club’s president. “We were involved with a lot of the candidates that challenged that. Considering that we helped to bring about the change to the number of years that the City Council people could serve, we felt it was only fair that we then step in to make sure that the mayor was held to the same limits.”

While Warren’s mayoral races are nonpartisan and the Warren Area Democratic Club has, since its inception in 2015, supported slates of Democratic Party candidates for county, state and federal offices, Fisher said the decision to spend roughly $12,000 on signs, literature and a robocall encouraging residents to vote “yes” was done to promote “fairness and equality.”

“It’s really about the idea that everybody should be held to the same standard,” Fisher said.

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