Warren council to vote again on mayoral term limits question

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published April 7, 2016


WARREN — Members of the Warren City Council will be asked again whether voters will get to decide if Warren Mayor Jim Fouts should be eligible to serve up to 20 years, or just the 12 currently permitted under term limits.

On April 7, sources confirmed that the office of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette had rejected the council’s previous vote on a resolution that would, if ultimately approved by the state and Warren voters, make Fouts or any future Warren mayor eligible to serve a total of five four-year terms, as opposed to three.

The City Council met for a hastily-called special meeting on March 1 where a diminished group voted 4-1 to approve sending the term limits question to the voters this August. Council member Robert Boccomino later said he requested the meeting, but that he was caught in weather-related traffic and could not attend. Council Secretary Kelly Colegio left the meeting before the vote was taken due to a family medical emergency.

Speaking after the mayor’s State of the City remarks on April 7, Boccomino said he’d been informed that another vote was required because the state wanted a three-fifths majority vote of approval from the seven-member council. He said another vote could be taken as soon as April 12, after press time.

“We needed five (votes). That’s his interpretation of it,” Boccomino said. “It was my initiative, so I’ll be there on Tuesday night and I’ll probably make the motion to get it through, and hopefully it will pass.

“All we’re asking for is this new generation of voters to have the same choice that the voters did 18 or 19 years ago. We’ve tested term limits. Let’s see how the voters feel about it,” Boccomino said.

In 1998, a majority of Warren voters supported enacting term limits set at 12 years or three four-year terms. The limits applied to the city’s elected mayor, clerk and treasurer, and to members of the City Council.

However, term limit eligibility for council members became convoluted after a controversial legal opinion by former City Attorney David Griem, who ruled in late 2014 that the city’s at-large and district City Council seats, established by a voter-approved charter amendment in 2010, created separate and distinct legislative offices. The ruling was unsuccessfully challenged in court and council members are now effectively permitted to serve three four-year terms at large, and three four-year terms in their home district.   

Speaking to reporters after his speech April 7, Fouts likened the attorney general’s request for another vote on the mayoral term limit issue to “housekeeping.” While he previously said the proposal didn’t originate in his office, he added that he was “not against it.”

The mayor did not mention the term limits proposal during his State of the City remarks.

“If it passes, it passes. If it doesn’t, it doesn't,” Fouts said. “I will always want to be working. Right now, I’m willing and able to run.”

Warren City Council member Scott Stevens, who cast the lone vote against the resolution on March 1, said he would again oppose sending the term limits to the voters in August. Instead, he said he’d like to see it on the November ballot, when voter turnout is expected to be far higher for the presidential election.

“I believe in allowing the people to make those decisions, if that’s what they want. I will vote for it if it’s on the November ballot,” Stevens said. “I’m not against having the people vote for this, but what they want to do is to control the voters. If it’s not on the November ballot, I will vote against it and I probably will even start a ballot proposal for term limits that will define them specifically and put the whole thing to rest.”

Look for an update to this story after the council’s April 12 meeting at www.candgnews.com.