4 on Warren council lose high court ruling on term limits

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
State of Michigan Supreme Court seal in The Hall of Justice in Lansing.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that four members of the Warren City Council have exceeded the city's term limits and cannot appear on the August primary ballot.

The justices overturned a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals that would have allowed the council members to stand for re-election.

The latest ruling means after the general election in November, the seven-member council could be virtually new, with only one incumbent eligible to seek reelection and two council members running for mayor and city clerk.

Warren council candidate Connor Berdy had filed a complaint May 10 against Warren’s City Clerk Sonya Buffa, the Warren City Election Commission and Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller, arguing that under the city charter, incumbents who exceeded 12 years of service in city office should not be permitted to run for another term.

Berdy requested that four of the seven member council, Scott Stevens, Steven Warner, Robert Boccomino and council president Cecil St. Pierre, all be removed from the ballot. Judge James Maceroni of Macomb Circuit Court agreed in a late May ruling, saying Berdy had “no other adequate legal remedy.” 

The ruling leaves Berdy, Gary Boike, Patrick Green, Kelli Kalvinski and Diane Young remaining as Aug. 6 primary candidates for the at-large council seats. April 23 was the deadline to file for the primary, according to the Macomb County elections website.

The decision also affects District 3, where Stevens was removed, and leaves Mark Dennings, Jocelyn Howard, Mindy Moore and Susan Smiley as primary candidates.

According to the county elections website, with Warner and Boccomino removed from the ballot for Districts 4 and 5, leaving only two eligible candidates in each, those races won't appear on the August ballot.

The attorney who represented Berdy called the state Supreme Court ruling significant.

"It means that if the city adopts term limits, the courts will enforce those limits," Kelly said.

The four council members removed from the ballot did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling Tuesday night.

In a June 6 decision, the state Appeals Court reversed Maceroni's decision, ruling that under a 2010 charter amendment, the district and at-large seats were distinct offices, and a council member could serve three four-year terms in each. Judge Jonathan Tukel dissented, arguing that "there is only one class of City Council member."

In Tuesday's ruling, the justices accepted Tukel's reasoning.

"We agree with the dissenting Court of Appeals judge that the Warren Charter provides for a single class of City Council members, subject to the term limits of the greater of three complete terms or 12 years in that office," the high court ruled.

"We also agree that, because it is not disputed that the challenged candidates will have served those maximum terms by the time of the 2019 election, they are ineligible under the Warren Charter to be certified as candidates for that election," according to the ruling.

The Supreme Court said the city charter provisions limiting terms "are not unusual."

"... City Elections Commission had a clear legal duty to perform the ministerial act of removing the names of the challenged contestants from the ballots," according to the ruling.

Rob Huth, an attorney representing Buffa and the Election Commission, said: "Opposing counsel did a nice job with the case. We thought the majority’s Court of Appeals’ decision was spot on and we were looking for confirmation from the Supreme Court. We’re considering the next step.”


Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.