Fouts says high court 'hijacked' Warren council election
Warren — A day after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled four members of Warren City Council ineligible for the August primary ballot, Mayor James Fouts ripped the ruling Wednesday, saying the justices had “hijacked” the election.
“Now we have voters in at least two districts will be disenfranchised — they will not even have a primary race,” he said. “And only one incumbent is running for city council. Everyone who will eventually be elected will be rookies."
Fouts said he was stunned by the decision, which disqualified Council President Cecil St. Pierre and councilmen Scott Stevens, Steven Warner and Robert Boccomino from the Aug. 6 ballot.
“I’m shocked — this is unprecedented,” said the mayor, who is running for a fourth term. “Our local election has been hijacked.”
In barring the four from seeking re-election, the high court overturned a ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which had said 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.
The result is that for the first time in recent memory, voters in the state’s third-largest city are poised to potentially replace all seven city council posts with new faces.
The prospect unsettles some, like Fouts, who fears it does not bode well for his administration or his city. Fouts said while he has had battles with his current council, he has worked with members for the good of the city.
And while all the elected posts, including his own, are nonpartisan, Fouts foresees potential problems dealing with a “rookie” council, saying he suspects some members may be swayed by special interests.
“I have talked with residents in the past two days that have told me had they known this was to happen, they would have run for office," he said.
“You need well-educated, knowledgeable people in these positions," Fouts said. "That’s how we have been able to save taxpayers’ money while improving services.”
But others don’t find the prospect of fresh leadership so grim. Current council member and mayor pro-tem Kelly Colegio, who is one of eight candidates challenging Fouts for the city’s top job, said “sometimes change is a good thing.”
“I’ve felt all along that these four should be ineligible,” said Colegio, in her second term as a $32,000-a-year council member. “Personally, as mayor, I would rather have new people to work with than violate our city charter.”
Now the August ballot breaks down something like this: Colegio will seek the mayor’s $125,000-a-year job. A second council incumbent who's not seeking re-election, Keith Sadowski, is among six candidates for the job held by Warren City Clerk Sonja Buffa.
Connor Berdy, who filed the lawsuit that led to the four council members' disqualification, is one of six candidates seeking the at-large council post held by St. Pierre. Six candidates, including Ronald Papandrea — who was appointed by council — are running in District 1.
Five new hopefuls will face off in District 2. Four candidates will battle it out in District 3, where Stevens was removed from the ballot by the Supreme Court action.
Since Warner was removed in District 4, only two eligible candidates remain, so that race will not be on the August ballot. In District 5, where Boccomino was removed, only two eligible candidates remain, so no primary vote will be held for that seat.