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 The Warren City Council regularly meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden Avenue.

The Warren City Council regularly meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden Avenue.

File photo by Brian Louwers

Warren’s mayor-council relationship one to watch in 2020

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 3, 2020


WARREN — In the days leading up to Christmas, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts was preparing to give the Warren City Council another veto, the sixth he had signed since the election in November.

“That’s a record. Six vetoes in three council meetings,” Fouts said half-jokingly.

Discord about actions taken by the city’s legislative body on topics ranging from marijuana businesses to updates on legal matters made for a “rocky” end to 2019, and the dynamic between Fouts and the city’s new-look City Council will be a story to watch in the new year.

Fouts, for his part, said he has pledged to work with the new group of legislative officials who now collectively sign the city’s checks. He was quick to run down a list of what he said were his administration’s accomplishments. Included were steps to develop Warren’s Civic Center, the construction of a detention basin designed to curtail flooding, awards given to the Warren Fire Department’s paramedic program for saving lives, and sweeping enforcement actions by the Police Department targeting narcotics and prostitution. He also talked about the value of industrial assessments in Warren and the city’s own financial stability.

“I don’t know any other city that’s doing all that we’re doing,” Fouts said. “Do you? Can you name another city that’s doing all the kind of stuff that we’re doing?”  

Fouts enters his 13th year in the Mayor’s Office poised to surpass former Mayor Ted Bates (14 years) as the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history, but he’ll need the council’s cooperation if he’s to get real things done.

“Be that what it is, I’m committed to working with the new City Council. I’ve reached out to all of them,” Fouts said. “I’ve invited them to come and work with me. The only way we can accomplish things is to work in a collaborative and cooperative way. We can’t do that if we continue to engage in acrimonious fire.”

Newly elected District 4 Warren City Councilman Garry Watts said the voters were clear about what they want to see when he interacted with them before the election last year.

“In talking with residents, obviously the hot-button topics were the crime, and they want more police coverage,” Watts said. He said road repairs and better oversight of rental homes also came up often.  

They’re all things Watts said he wants to address, but even how to begin the process has been a bone of contention between the mayor and the newly elected officials.

“I think right now it’s very rocky,” Watts said. “I think we’re almost, for lack of a better term, we’re kind of at a standoff because I think the mayor is pretty headstrong about wanting to keep control of everything.

“I’ll speak for myself, but I know some of the others feel the same way. We feel the city has been going in the wrong direction and we need to right the ship,” Watts said. “ I think he (Fouts) is having trouble dealing with that.”

Watts said he met with Fouts and that they had a “good meeting” that was “very positive.”

“We talked about working together to accomplish the goals, but he’s insistent on if any of us want to talk to any department heads, we have to go through him first,” Watts said. “I personally told him I wasn’t doing that, because the department heads don’t work for him. They work for all of us.”

In late November, newly elected Councilman Jonathan Lafferty, representing District 2, took up the issue and said it was an attempt to “stonewall” elected officials outside of the Fouts administration and keep them from doing their jobs.

“The same person who used to sit up here and rally against the administration for silencing him is now responsible for blocking the council from doing exactly what it was elected to do,” Lafferty said. “I have no intention of calling your office every time I need an answer from one of your department heads.”

Councilman Ronald Papandrea, who was supported by Fouts in his recent campaign in District 1, said it is Warren’s charter, and not the mayor, that defines the process of how departmental administrators and members of the City Council interact.

 “I respect you. I know you want to do good for the people, but you’re going about it the wrong way if you’re going to blame the mayor for what’s in the charter,” Papandrea said.

Councilwoman Mindy Moore, who returned to the council to represent District 3 after the election in November, said she was never prohibited from reaching out to department heads under former Mayor Mark Steenbergh’s administration when she served on the council from 2003 to 2007.    

Council President Pat Green said that while the charter prohibits council members from directing department heads unilaterally without going through the Mayor’s Office, it does permit them to question administrative staffers as part of their investigatory duties.

“Now we don’t have investigatory powers as it’s normally used in a prosecution sense,” Green said. “But we have an agenda here, and every two weeks, second and fourth Tuesday, we have to investigate those questions and come up with answers.

“We’re not trying to subvert the mayor’s authority. We’re trying to investigate to do the work that you’ve elected us to do,” Green said. “I guess if we’re not given the liberty to discuss things with department officials, we’ll just have to table the entire agenda until such time as we can do it.”

With big issues, including the 2020-21 budget process looming, Fouts responded to the concerns expressed by some City Council members by insisting that he is “willing to work with them and accommodate them as best I can.”  

“I respect the council, but they have to respect that each of us have things to do. We’re all united here to work for the citizens,” Fouts said.

The Warren City Council regularly meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Warren Community Center at 5460 Arden Avenue.