Lifetime Healthcare Overturned; Mayoral Vetoes Upheld

Warren City Council Recap Nov. 26, 2019

By Susan Smiley

One of the first orders of business at the Nov. 26 Warren City Council meeting was to rescind the Sept. 10 decision by the previous council to give council persons health care coverage for life. 

The original decision came to light a couple of weeks ago and has been a topic of controversy in the news. The vote to rescind the decision was unanimous. 

Council also voted unanimously to uphold mayoral vetoes regarding the issuance of three additional medical marijuana provisioning center licenses. The number of licenses issued will remain at 15 and will not increase to 18. Another item on the agenda related to marijuana called for a resolution approving a six-month moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses in the City of Warren. Council voted 4-3 not to adopt the resolution with Garry Watts, Eddie Kabacinski and Angela Rogensues voting in favor of the moratorium. 

Earlier, during the audience participation segment of the meeting, resident Lori Harris spoke in favor of the moratorium and went even further to say other decisions regarding medical marijuana dispensaries should also be rescinded. 

“It is not fair to the neighborhoods that people are growing marijuana in homes and are not even living there,” said Harris, who again called for councilman Ronald Papandrea to resign because of his involvement with several lawsuits pending against the city and members of the marijuana sub committee. “We should not be paying him a salary when we are already paying for his lawsuits.”

While no one from the audience spoke at the first public hearing of the evening regarding the removal of a house and garage at 28606 Audrey, councilman Jonathan Lafferty spoke out inquiring why it was the house had already been removed seemingly before potential house flippers had a chance to look at the home and decide if it could be improved and saved. Council voted to approve the removal even though council members said the home had already been razed 

LeCom, Inc. had its application for a commercial rehabilitation exemption center on the site of the old Regal Lanes approved unanimously. 

An item from Parks and Recreation director Dino Turcato that had been tabled at the last meeting remained on the table after Tuesday’s meeting. Parks and Recreation had requested permission to award a bid to put mulch and border timbers at various playscape areas in Warren parks. At Monday night’s committee of the whole meeting council members Lafferty and  Watts made it clear they were not inclined to approve any requests from Parks and Recreation until they receive a detailed budget plan for the $3.6 million that was awarded to the department in June. 

An item to approve contract modifications to for Iroquois repavement between 13 Mile and Lutz was questioned by Kabacinski.He asked why the increase adjustment to the Zuniga Cement contract was so large at $98,508. Since no one from the city’s engineering department was in the audience to answer questions, the item was tabled until the next council meeting.

Under “Council Business” there was discussion regarding the city policy to charge elected officials for the use of public event rooms. This includes rooms in city libraries and at the Warren Community Center. 

“I am very  much in favor of having access to community space,” said Rogensues. “But I think this council needs to consider additional cost to the city. I’m not sure if it should be free access across the board because it is not uncommon for community groups to have to pay.”

Council president and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Green said residents are already paying for the meeting spaces via taxes and that most other municipalities do not charge elected officials to hold town hall meetings or other informational gatherings that benefit the citizens. 

“These are community spaces paid for by you, the taxpayers,” said Green. “I agree if we fill this (auditorium) there is going to be an expense involved and that is something we can look at. But if our state rep is having a town hall about an important issue we should work with them. We are bringing people to our library to help people see the great assets available. If elected officials want to meet with residents they should not be charged; no one does that.”

Council agreed to look at revamping the current guidelines for room rentals. 

During audience participation at the beginning of the meeting, citizen Laurie Artz commented about the rental of meeting rooms. She said the League of Women Voters was told it had to pay more than $1000 to rent the Community Center auditorium for a candidate forum during the most recent local election season. Artz said Warren Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato said he could not allow the League of Women Voters to use any room for a candidate forum before getting permission for them to do so. According to Artz, Turcato never indicated who had to grant permission or indicated that there was a particular application process for community groups to follow. 

“If the community center is not going to be used for the community then who should it be used for?” asked Artz.

Council reappointed Mary Kamp as Deputy Council Secretary. Council Secretary Mindy Moore said she had the authority to make the appointment but wanted to do so at an open meeting. 

“It has become clear to me in the past weeks that Mary is a valuable asset and has been extremely helpful to me,” said Moore. The appointment received applause from the audience. 

Safer Neighborhoods Founder and Director Bill Clift made a brief presentation to council regarding what appears to be a change in citizen access to BS&A software. The software is used by the assessment department but enables residents to look up information on rental properties and other properties such as permits pulled, citations issued, etc. 

“Safer Neighborhoods helps residents form strategies to deal with problems in their neighborhood,” said Clift. “One of the biggest tools we have been using is the  BS&A software so that when people formulate complaints, they can see what kind of track record that property owner or landlord has. It allows residents to communicate to people in authority that there is an existing problem going on in their neighborhood.”

Clift said that at some point in recent weeks, all of the information that residents were once able to access has disappeared. 

“People are making waves so now we are going to eliminate access to the information so that residents have to work harder to find out what is going on in their neighborhood?” said Clift. “We are hoping this is just a glitch that happened when they transferred over to the new web site.”

Council agreed to look into the issue and see about making the information accessible to residents again.

Moore introduced a resolution asking the city attorney to draft an ordinance establishing a social media policy for elected officials. She indicated she has received several complaints from residents who have been blocked by city officials, including Mayor James Fouts, on Facebook. 

Moore’s proposal is included in the e-packet which is available on the City of Warren website: https://www.cityofwarren.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2019.11.26_CC_ePacket.pdf

“The president of the United States is prohibited from blocking people,” said Moore. “Elected officials can’t exclude citizens from reading and responding to posts that include announcements about the city.”

Moore cited the First Amendment of the Constitution and said even if residents are critical of an elected official, they may not be blocked from a social media page used to make official announcements about the city. Her proposed ordinance states that it should be unlawful for any elected officer of the city including board and commission members to use a personal social media account for city business if they choose to block residents. She proposed a $1,000 fine for willful violation of the ordinance. 

Papandrea said the council does not have the authority to levy fines on anyone and that he disagreed with Moore’s proposal.

“If I want to set up a Facebook account to talk about Warren politics I should be able to block whoever I want,” said Papandrea. “I am going to vote ‘no’ on this because I think it is a violation of my rights.”

Rogensues thought the ordinance proposal should include some kind of exception for harassment or for someone making threats to the elected official. She also stated that in her opinion, $1,000 was too steep of a fine. 

“Going door to door I learned our community has a lot of challenges including food and housing insecurity,” said Rogensues. “It concerns me that the second meeting of this council is focused on social media policy.”

Council voted 5-2 to approve Moore’s request to have the city attorney draft an ordinance; Papandrea and Rogensues were the dissenting votes. 

Lafferty added an item to the agenda under council business regarding what he says is a city policy prohibiting various city department heads from speaking directly to members of the city council. 

“I was informed by one department head that the mayor has forbidden any department heads from talking to me,” said Lafferty. “I was told that all requests must go through the mayor’s office and must be responded to by him.”

Lafferty indicated that it was cumbersome not to be able to contact department heads directly when often there are questions about various agenda items and issues that are best answered by a particular department. 

Lafferty then addressed Mayor Fouts directly: “Mr. Mayor, are you afraid citizens are going to realize someone other than you is capable of working for and with the people?  I have a newsflash for you; I have no intention of calling your office every time I need an answer from one of your department heads. Instead of fiening outrage on your Facebook page, why don’t you say that your first directive tomorrow will be to direct our department heads to engage with council members that were elected to do a job.”

Lafferty specifically requested information from the building department about properties located at 8319 Christine and 8581 Linda. 

Papandrea argued that it is not the mayor but the City Charter that prohibits department heads from speaking directly to council members. 

“I served on council from 2003 to 2007 and I was never once prohibited from talking to a department head to get information that I needed,” said Moore. “Many times a situation is time sensitive and we need to find an answer and get back to a resident right away. I think the current situation is burdensome and I think it is stonewalling.”

Green agreed that it makes it much easier to serve residents and procure needed information if council persons are allowed to go right to the source. 

“We call a department head to get background on certain items and I have spoken to several since I was elected,” said Green. “We are not trying to circumvent the mayor; we are just trying to get information that we need to do our jobs. We will just have to table the entire agenda if we are not allowed to talk to department heads.” 

Council agreed that department heads should be allowed to speak directly to them.

Last night’s Warren City Council meeting was the first featuring audience participation at the beginning of the meeting. Immediately after announcements several residents made their way to the podium to speak out on Warren parks, marijuana and rental of meeting rooms in community buildings.

Tina Mills asked for information regarding repairs that were done on Wagner Avenue after the planning commission and council approved the street to be vacated as part of the construction for the logistics company that will be located at 9 Mile and Hoover. Mills also inquired about a city sub-committee for the 9 Mile and Hoover project that she says was promised but has not materialized. 

“They went the whole week (after the decision to vacate) and keep repairing and how it has all been dug up because it has been vacated,” said Mills. “You know how much money has been wasted on repairs to this? Everyone seems to think they know what is best for us down there and they have no idea.”

Jerry T. Bell spoke on behalf of his friend, Warren resident Tony Baker, regarding the need to ensure that all businesses are following ADA guidelines with regard to handicapped parking. Earlier this year, council voted to have the city attorney draft an ordinance that would strengthen the federal ADA law regarding parking. That ordinance has not yet been written and returned to council for approval. 

Several people spoke regarding Warren parks in response to a comment by city controller Richard Fox at Monday’s committee of the whole meeting suggesting that Warren should consider selling off some of its parks. Parks and recreation was given $3.6 million in June for park upgrades and repairs and plans for how and where those funds will be spent is currently evolving. 

“You said we have 30 parks and I feel we need all 30,” said resident Rick Anderson. “I know it was said that not enough people use the parks but I have not used the fire department since I have lived in my house here but I still want that! To make a community we need our libraries and our parks.”

Resident Bridget Quinn, who identified herself as a former member of the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee, asked new city council representatives to make parks a priority.

“Overwhelmingly, citizens have said they want more green space and more trees,” said Quinn. “We have not made investments in our parks that go with citizen demands.”

Quinn called for more bio-diverse and sustainable plantings to reduce flooding and the addition of natural areas where residents can play and relax. 

Susan Smiley, whose home backs up to the Ridgewood property that is slated for development as a nature park, urged council to use creative thinking to stretch the Parks and Recreation budget. Seeking grants and engaging community groups and students were among her suggestions to maintain and develop parks and recreational programming. 

“So many residents have mentioned the old program the city had that allowed young people to work in the parks during the summer, helping with park maintenance and helping to run day camp programs,” Smiley said. “Bringing back something like this would help our parks and help the kids.”

Smiley also mentioned that Fitzgerald football coach Gary Skop wanted to engage his team with the parks as a community service project. 

Gracie Passalacqua said she attended Ridgewood Elementary School in the ‘60s and feels strongly that the park that is to be there simply cannot be called anything but Ridgewood Park. She said she was extremely upset to see a sign erected on the property designating it at “Racine Park.”

Pete Sutliff, who heads the Green New Warren community environmental group, said the city must think beyond the expense of mowing the parks and consider all of the benefits parks and green spaces provide for residents. 

“Perhaps you think installing something like a wildflower meadow or butterfly garden will add to your workload,” said Sutliff. “But if they are installed properly, they will do just the opposite. You will cut mowing costs and reduce flooding. If you pave over these parks you will contribute to storm water runoff.”

Sutliff echoed Passalacqua’s statements on naming the park located on the old Ridgewood school property.

“Naming it Ridgewood is the right thing to do; to do the opposite is a slap in the face to the community.” 

Sarah DeMercurio, who lives near the Ridgewood property, expressed a frustration on the part of residents that no action to develop the property into the promised nature park has been taken by the city. 

“Residents are anxious to see it come to life,” said DeMercurio. “Many residents are willing to contribute their time and effort to make this happen. The park can be self sustaining and low maintenance. Parks do not have to have asphalt and ball diamonds; a beautiful space is enough.”

Resident Diane Young closed public comments by describing parks as the lungs of the city and calling for improvements to parks, not the elimination of them. 

“Right now, there is not enough programming for kids and the city could take a role in enhancing this,” said Young. “Programming could be offered  year-round. We need a better vision for our parks.”

The next meeting of the Warren City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, December 10, 7 p.m. at the Warren Community Center on Arden. 

Short-Term Rentals , Parks Discussed at COTW

Warren City Council Committee of the Whole Recap Nov. 25, 2019

By Susan Smiley

A proposed ordinance requiring short-term rentals to undergo the same scrutiny as other rental properties will get a second read at the Nov. 26 Warren City Council meeting. The proposed ordinance passed its first reading on Oct. 8 and seeks to control Airbnb-type rentals. 

Currently, any rental property in Warren is required to be licensed with the exception of owner-occupied rentals. Airbnb rentals and many other short-term rentals fall into that category. The proposed ordinance would require owner-occupied rentals including Airbnb rentals to go through the licensing process just like any other rental property. The city is not so much distinguishing between the length of the rental agreement but between owner-occupied rentals and rentals that are not owner occupied. 

“We are not concerned about business people renting in a residential area or something like that,” said Council President Patrick Green. “We are concerned about people who are renting a house for a weekend just to party.”

The ordinance would give the city the power to revoke someone’s rental license if there were complaints about partying or other undesirable activity. Councilman Jonathan Lafferty suggested procuring a list of Airbnb addresses in Warren and Green agreed that such a list could be used to check that all Airbnb properties operating in the city of Warren were in possession of a rental license. 

This item did not appear on the agenda posted to the City of Warren website on Friday but will be added at the beginning of tomorrow’s council meeting.

Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato appeared at the Committee of the Whole meeting to answer questions regarding his plans for the $3.6 million awarded to his department for park improvements in June. Turcato did not have a detailed plan but instead gave a general description of what he saw as top priorities. At the top of his list is making all park bathrooms ADA compliant. Upgrading the pavilion at Halmich Park, adding a skateboard area at one or more of the parks, and replacing pea gravel under play areas with mulch were also on the list. With regard to the promised development of a nature park on the old Ridgewood School property on Racine, Turcato would only say that he planned to put in a gravel walking path. 

“I am pleased with my plan,” said Turcato, who acknowledged he has not moved forward on any of his plans except to upgrade the ball diamonds and fencing at some of the parks and to remove tennis courts at another park. “But I would love to hear your ideas. I’m looking for ideas.”

Lafferty asked for some kind of documentation showing Warren parks that were in need of the most attention or a ranking that showed the parks listed from “best to worst” so that council could be aware of what was needed overall.

“We have a list of what we want but we don’t have the list of what everything is going to cost, is that correct Mr. Turcato?” said Lafferty. “If we are doing piecemeal here and piecemeal there, then we need to know what is NOT going to get done. I want to see the entire scope and cost attached to all of it.”

City controller Richard Fox questioned the need for parks in the city. 

“When you look at the magnitude of how many parks and buildings we have, I think you have to ask yourself if we need 30 parks or if we would rather have 10 parks that are really nice,” said Fox. “And if we are going to create a long-term parks system that is going to last, we have to revisit the millage system.”

Master Plan surveys indicate that residents want more green space and more walkable neighborhood parks. 

“We need to find out what we need and go from there,” said councilman Garry Watts. “Have you worked with the residents over by Ridgewood and asked them what they want? I am not inclined to spend a dime before we can see exactly what is needed.”

Watts then asked how many park maintenance employees the city has; Turcato indicated the city has no employees that are assigned to park maintenance. 

Council Secretary Mindy Moore agreed there is a need to bring park bathrooms up to ADA compliance but also talked about the importance of bringing programming to certain “dead zones” like the David Area neighborhood near Schoenherr and Toepfer. 

“I know that people want butterfly gardens and things like that but they are going to have to be maintained and that is the thing; we don’t want to put something in and then not be able to maintain it,” said Turcato.

“What if we spend all of the money to fix the bathrooms but then we don’t have any employees to maintain them or keep them safe?” said Watts. 

Turcato said he plans to hire a dozen temporary seasonal employees to manage park bathrooms. Watts said he would support seasonal employees but would not support the outsourcing of such jobs. 

Councilman Ronald Papandrea said he supported Fox’s statement about the need to close some of the parks and sell the land for development. Turcato said he believed many Warren parks are underutilized and specifically mentioned Underwood Park. 

There will be a Parks and Recreation item on the agenda for tomorrow night’s council meeting regarding approval for the replacement of pea gravel with mulch on several park play areas. 

Mary Reed Mataczynski began audience participation with a comment about Warren’s master plan. She suggested that master plan recommendations be used when planning how to use the $3.6 million to improve Warren parks. She also questioned DDA payments for Community Center repairs to the pool.

“How is the DDA paying for all of these Community Center repairs and it bypasses city council?” she asked.

Laurie Artz complained that the new council is showing the same lack of transparency as the previous council because of plans to add items to tomorrow’s council agenda at the beginning of that meeting. Artz said she does not believe items should be allowed to be added on the night of a council meeting because residents deserve a chance to know what is going to be discussed and have an opportunity to express their opinion. 

Susan Smiley spoke regarding the Ridgewood property and the nature park that was promised to residents in 2018. She reminded council that the Environmental Advisory Committee held a residents meeting at the property in June of 2018 and collected input regarding various things they would like to see in the park. Smiley said she would give that information to the council secretary in an effort to help move the project forward. Smiley lives adjacent to the Ridgewood property. 

Resident David Strunk spoke in support of better scrutiny of Airbnb-type rentals. He asked if there could be a monitoring of how many people were in the rental homes which could help stop them from being misused as “party houses.”

“If you are supposed to have only eight people in the house and there are 28 people you should be able to pull the license,” said Strunk.

Lori Harris closed audience participation with a call for Papandrea to resign because of his involvement with the city’s marijuana review committee and the many lawsuits pending against the city and members of that committee.

“Mr.Papandrea we are paying your salary and we are paying for your attorney fees and respectfully I ask you to step down,” said Harris.

The regular meeting of the Warren City Council is at 7 p.m. Nov. 26 at the Warren Community Center auditorium. Audience participation is now at the beginning of the council meetings after announcements. The Community Center is located on Arden. 

New Council Moves Audience Participation to Top of Agenda

Warren City Council Recap for Nov. 12, 2019

By Susan Smiley

The newly-elected Warren City Council held its first regular meeting last night and President and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Green stated his council would be committed to transparency and would operate differently than the previous council. 

“We are not going to be up here having side conversations,” said Green. The comment seemed to be in response to an October council meeting where then Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Colegio requested that then-president Cecil St. Pierre “zip it” as he was talking off mic while she was speaking. 

Garry Watts was named council vice president; Mindy Moore was named secretary while Johathan Lafferty was named assistant council secretary. 

The new council unanimously approved a proposal to move audience participation to the beginning of the meeting. Beginning with the Nov. 26 meeting, audience participation will be after announcements and before public hearings. District five councilperson Eddie Kabacinski proposed having audience participation at the beginning and end of council meetings as he has seen this method used in other municipalities. Green said he would not be opposed to that but suggested trying the earlier audience participation for a couple of meetings before deciding if a second time for residents to speak needed to be added. 

Council unanimously approved collection proceedings related to the removal of a home and garage at 8746 Packard and a house and garage located at 20975 Wellington as well. 

Rezoning for property located at Nine Mile and Hoover was approved 6-1 with Kabacinski being the dissenting vote. The property will be home to a logistics company that will service FCA. Currently, the property is a mix of several zoning categories but the council moved to rezone the property to M-2 Medium LIght Industrial. Approval had been recommended by the Planning Commission. 

A representative from Crown Enterprises made a short presentation about the proposed facility which could bring as many as 300 new jobs to the City of Warren. Green verified that there would be some kind of buffer zone between the facility and the adjoining neighborhood and Lafferty inquired about 12 lots located on the border of the property on Republic. 

“I was at the planning commission meeting where you proposed the original site plan which had 12 lots on the border between the property and Republic,” said Lafferty. “Were those homes purchased? Are they part of this plan?”

The representative from Crown said eight of those properties had been purchased but they were not part of the current site plan. 

Two items pertaining to the previous council’s approval of the addition of three medical marijuana provisioning center licenses were on the agenda. Adding the licenses would bring the total amount from 15 to 18. Although council approved the addition during a special meeting the night before the Nov. 5 election, Mayor James Fouts vetoed the decision so the item went back to council. Council voted to keep the vetoes in place.

Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato received 6-1 approval to spend $80,802 for the renovation of baseball diamonds at Butcher, Weigand and Rinke parks. Turcato said this is an ongoing project that his department has been working on during the entire summer. Kabacinski was the “no” vote. 

Turcato’s request for $363,936 for mulch and border timber installation at various play structures around the city was tabled and is to be discussed at the next Committee of the Whole meeting. 

“I want to understand the complete project and see the entire budget for the 3.6 million that this department was given earlier this year,” said Lafferty. 

Warren Facilities Engineer Todd Shaedig explained three requests pertaining to updates to the WasteWater Treatment Plant and Nine Mile Road Pump Station; all three requests for funding were approved unanimously. Updates are related to the new basin going in at the old Roosevelt School property and updates to the release sewer system. There also will be massive updates to the pumping station which was built in 1957. All of the updates are meant to control flooding. 

“Updates to the pumping station will be a complete gut job,” said Shaedig. “Currently, the pump station could not accept the increase in flow that is going to come once we complete the release sewer. When we empty the basin into the pumping station, these updates will enable us to put clean water back into the Red Run Drain.”

Pump station improvements will cost $9,700,000. The cost of eight liquid samplers for the WasteWater Treatment Plant is $56,346; the cost of air compressors for the plant is $48,235. The total cost of updates to the sewage system, pump station, treatment plant and basin are expected to total $85 million. 

Resident Wesley Arnold spoke during audience participation and questioned the practice of charging government officials for use of library meeting rooms. Arnold was upset that State Representative Lori Stone had to pay $100 to use a room at one of the Warren libraries for a meeting with residents. 

“That is a public room that was not booked for anything else,” said Arnold. “This is unacceptable. Libraries should be able to be used by our representatives to give needed information to residents. Our reps and state senators work for us, the Warren citizens, and should be allowed to meet with residents in a public room.” 

Three items were added to the agenda under “council business” :

  • City council made an amendment to rules and procedures stating that the word “councilman” shall be replaced with “councilperson” or “council members.” 
  • Council unanimously approved a motion to prohibit any city officer from employing or retaining outside council without first getting approval from city council. Council also requested a list of all legal matters where outside council is currently representing the City of Warren or its employees and the bills, invoices, contracts and engagement letters related to these matters. 
  • Being that this is, for the most part, a brand new city council (Ronald Papandrea, Green and Moore have previously been on council) a resolution was approved unanimously asking that all legal opinions currently in the city’s opinion books be brought to council prior to the next regular city council meeting. Moore made a motion to approve which was supported by Watts. Papadrea noted that he supported the idea but was not sure the task could be completed before the next council as it was a huge undertaking. Moore agreed the timeline might have to be extended and said that going forward, legal opinions could be scanned and given to council before they were put into the opinion books so that council members could stay current on all legal opinions. 

“It is a good idea but I’m just not sure we want to put this burden on one of our full-time clericals,” said Papandrea. “There are companies that will do this for us.”

The next Warren City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. November 26 at the Warren Community Center auditorium on Arden. Agendas and information about the various agenda items are available on the City of Warren website. https://www.cityofwarren.org/government/city-council/

St. Pierre Says He Hopes to “Make Lots of Money” on Marijuana; Fiery Lame Duck Council Session Lacks Productivity

Warren City Council Recap for Oct. 22, 2019

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — The agenda item that created the most anticipation for the larger-than-usual city council audience was settled in a heartbeat without discussion. Warren City Council voted 5-1 to override Mayor James Fouts’ veto of the Marijuana Review Committee’s recommendations for the approval of 15 medical marijuana licenses. 

Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Colegio was the lone “no” vote. Keith Sadowski was thought to be a possible swing vote, but voted “yes” without hesitation as the audience jeered.

Several residents held up large signs asking for council not to override the veto but almost before residents could raise their signs, the vote was over. But while council was quickly finished with the issue of medical marijuana, citizens were still in the mood to talk about it. 

Resident Lori Harris said she was “disgusted” by the council’s vote to allow 15 dispensaries in the city and said the city did not do the best it could for the residents . 

“How are you doing the best you could when I’ve come to you for two years with issues involving illegal marijuana growing in my neighborhood and you have done nothing,” said Harris, who called out Sadowski for not returning her calls regarding the matter. “And Cecil, I’m sure you’re going to make money on these marijuana licenses.”

“Oh I hope so,” was the response of City Council President Cecil St. Pierre. “What’s wrong with making money?”

Resident and city council candidate Garry Watts thanked council members for their service but also criticized those on the marijuana review committee for “leaving so many lawsuits for the city.” Several lawsuits have already been filed and more are expected. Watts also questioned the process for appointing people to various commissions as he noted some appointees have records of not paying city taxes and water bills in a timely fashion.

The meeting started out on a much more warm and fuzzy note with each councilperson using the announcements portion of the agenda to wax poetic about their time with the city and in some cases, say a very long and tearful good-bye.  

But the meeting went from complementary to combative when two public hearings to establish commercial rehabilitation districts prompted some heated discussion. Economic Development Director Tom Bommarito said the council would only need to approve the rehabilitation districts at this meeting; businesses interested in locating in the district could come back in late November to petition for tax abatements. The first request for the establishment of a commercial rehabilitation district on the site of the old Regal Lanes building was approved 5-1 with Colegio being the only no vote. 

She was also the only dissenter on the resolution to create a commercial rehabilitation district on VanDyke near city hall. 

“I was hoping to have a nice presentation for council tonight but I could not get all of the numbers together,” said Bommarito. “We want to create the district and then have two or three developers come and give a presentation to council and talk about getting whatever tax incentive there may be. “

Colegio criticized Bommarito for not coming to council sooner with detailed plans and said in part, her no vote reflected the lack of information given to council prior to last night’s meeting. She also cited non-compliance with the most updated version of the city’s Master Plan.

As Colegio tried to make a motion to table the item until the new council was in place, St. Pierre repeatedly interrupted her prompting Colegio to ask the council president to “zip it.” Her motion to table received no support. 

St. Pierre said despite this project being in the works for 12 years there was an urgency to “move forward” this week and “lay the groundwork” for the downtown development area to blossom. 

The final public hearing sought approval for special land use and site plan for a new fitness center and drive-through restaurant on the site of the former Kroger store on 14 Mile and Schoenherr. The petitioner said he was aware residents were hoping for a Trader Joe’s or other market but said those types of businesses were not interested in this particular location. Three different fitness centers expressed interest in the old Kroger site however. 

Council approved the request 5-1 with Colegio dissenting.

A presentation about routing of the Iron Belle Trail sparked some controversy. The new part of the trail is planned to go through Sterling Heights, Warren and Center Line and is meant to be a family-friendly hike and bike route that promotes economic development. The trail is planned to run through the entire state including the U.P. 

St. Pierre and councilman Robert Boccomino criticized the route for not using more of the ITC corridor to avoid heavy traffic areas. Bommarito said he believed the trail cut away from the ITC area at some point so it could be routed through Center Line. Use of the ITC corridor for some kind of trail was suggested by the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee several months ago; Boccomino said the city asked for and received permission from the ITC to develop a bike and walking trail on the property. 

“Back in the day, the bike route wanted to go through Center LIne and the balked so we went to the ITC,” said Boccomino. “Bike riding is becoming more popular so with that vision, we got ITC on board so why not go through there?”

Council voted 5-1 to table the item; Sadowski was the “no” vote.

The police department received unanimous approval for additional funding of $305,165 for five full-time officers for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year. The officers will staff the new “mini station” located at the library — also known as “civic center south” — on VanDyke and 9 Mile. 

Despite having a grand opening party two weeks ago, the library is not actually operable yet. According to Colegio there are other issues with the long-awaited library as well. 

“The millage for this library passed in 2010 and it took nine years to build the library,” said Colegio. “When I went with one of our residents, Mr. Tony Baker, to see the new library we saw that the parking lot is not ADA compliant. The city needs to do something to fix that right away. You really need to make sure ADA parking is right especially when you have a special needs park on the property.”

Items approved unanimously by council included:

  • An item, tabled at the Oct. 8 meeting, to enter into a cost-sharing agreement with MDOT for maintenance of a traffic signal on VanDyke and Civic Center North across from the GM Tech Center. Annual cost to the city is $348,
  • A request from the 37th District Court for an increase in budgeted revenues and appropriations in the amount of $104,000 to account for the receipt of a grant from the MIchigan Drug Court Program. 
  • A request to authorize the execution of a vehicle lease agreement between SMART and the City of Warren.
  • Two requests from treasurer Lorie Barnwell to open Money Market accounts to accomodate a grant and a 28 million dollar bond for construction of the basin meant to ease flooding in the city. 

Nine tax reverted properties were approved for sale at various prices. Six of the properties were listed as vacant. 

  • Parcel no 13-15-181-029 (vacant)
  • 8628 Paige (vacant)
  • 8719 Studebaker (vacant)
  • 13509 Georgiana (vacant)
  • 20949 Waltham (vacant)
  • 21410 Conners Ave. (vacant)
  • 21623 VanDyke
  • 22410 Schoenherr
  • 21965 Cyman

During audience participation, at-large candidate Diane Young thanked Deputy Public Service Director Gus Ghanan for “putting out a hit piece on me and giving me some free advertising.” She also defended her data regarding the taxable value of homes in Warren that she used on her own campaign literature saying she took that data directly from the city’s web site.

Delores Prantera, who spoke at the last meeting about being told she could no longer donate food to the seniors at Stilwell Manor, spoke about being harassed during a baby shower she held at Stilwell. 

“I reserved the activity center for a baby shower with 40 invited guests, but one uninvited guest came: Mayor Fouts,” said Prantera. “He was questioning the guests as to what kind of event this was and what was going on.” Prantera said the baby decorations and gifts should have indicated immediately that a baby shower was in progress. 

“He was harassing my guests because he thought it was some kind of event for Kelly Colegio, which would have been illegal for me to have on city property,” said Prantera. “I really question the mayor’s stability and social graces.”

The next Warren City Council Meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12, 7 p.m. at the Warren Community Center on Arden. Don’t forget to VOTE on Nov. 5!

Medical Marijuana Licenses Approved; Audience Participation Gets Fiery

Warren City Council Recap Oct. 8, 2019

By Susan Smiley

After much controversy and anticipation, Warren City Council voted 5-2 to approve the recommendations of the city’s Medical Marijuana Review Committee. The recommendations grant 15 licenses for medical marijuana.. 

Councilman Scott Stevens and Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Colegio were the dissenting votes.

Earlier on Tuesday, Judge Carl Marlinga lifted an injunction, put into place two weeks ago, which allowed the licenses to be awarded. Despite the council voting to award the licenses, there are several lawsuits pending against members of the Marijuana Review Committee and the City of Warren and more are expected to be filed. 

 More than 60 applications were received for medical marijuana licenses and the Marijuana Review Committee met with each applicant.  Each individual committee member then scored them based on 17 different criteria. There have been numerous complaints about the scoring system and the entire licensing process.

“Why is there such a rush to pass this,” said Stevens, who said he had time only to review six of the applicants after the information was released to city council. “There is no need to sacrifice accuracy for speed. For us to do this tonight is an injustice to the citizens of this city.”

Stevens also questioned why members of council, who were not part of the Marijuana Review Committee and were not privy to information about the applicants until recently, should trust any of the information given to them by the review board. Stevens, Colegio and Keith Sadowski were in favor of tabling the item until council persons had more time to review individual applicants but that idea was voted down 4-3. Stevens said he would support the applicants that finished 24-38 getting licenses instead of the applicants listed 1-15 by the Review Committee.

Council president Cecil St. Pierre, who also presided over the marijuana committee, sung the praises of the medical marijuana industry and said he thought it would be good for Warren.

“Other communities are doing it so why aren’t we doing it?” said St. Pierre. “This is going to be great for Warren. Center Line approved 15 licenses and I have not heard any controversy about it.”

Colegio, who has been outspoken against the process used by the Marijuana Review Committee, said members of city council who were not on the committee had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain detailed information about the applicants. She said she voted “no” on the original ordinance outlining the process used to select the licensee because she believed it was poorly written — and opinion echoed by Judge Marlinga during court proceedings – and would invite lawsuits. 

“In my opinion, the only way to do this was with a lottery,” said Colegio. “I have not been very supportive of this industry, but I support the process of a free market. Many business people in this room have invested a lot of time and effort and I feel bad for anyone who felt that ‘charitable contributions to the community’ was a criteria they had to meet. 

“We are going to have lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit and it is the taxpayers who pay for that, not members of the Marijuana Review Committee. This is a debacle and an embarrassment to the city.”

A visibly emotional Sadowski said he struggled with his decision to support the recommendations of the Marijuana Review Committee. In the end, he said his concern for medical marijuana patients outweighed his anger over the flawed process used by the committee to select the 15 license recipients,

“It is because of the process that we are sitting here tonight,” said Sadowski, citing Ronald Papandrea’s use of a pass/fail system of scoring applicants instead of the system outlined in the ordinance. “Once committee member took it upon himself to do his own thing instead of following the guidelines. I know how much (medical marijuana) helps people and have spent a lot of time thinking about how this is going to affect people in our community.”

Discussion of the controversial process used to issue the marijuana licenses continued during audience participation when several lawyers representing companies not granted licenses spoke. Non-transparency and specifically the way that Papandrea scored applicants were issues with which the various lawyers and representatives for applicants took issue.

“My clients know they are not guaranteed a license,” said Alan Green. “But what they expected was a fair, open and objective evaluation and what we got was a secret and unfair proceeding that resulted in what happened here today, This issue is not going away. It would have been a lot better if it were open, fair and objective so everyone understood how decisions were being made.”

Green said the committee should have told applicants how it arrived at its decision as opposed to simply announcing the ranking of the applicants. 

Mike Bahoura also decried the system used to score applicants and went as far to say he felt the 15 winning applicants had been predetermined.

“There are all sorts of transparency issues,” said Bahoura. “I urge the mayor if he is watching to veto this process. I have no problem losing, but you need to justify where I lost. I have a problem with being cheated and that is what I think happened. Do not let them get away with this process!”

Citizens also expressed their displeasure with the process and business owner Richard Platt said he only recently received notice that a provisioning center was going to be located 30 feet from his building. He said at no time was he asked for his input on approval for that location on Groesbeck near 696. 

“There should have been more citizen participation in the process,” said Platt. “None of this passes the smell test and it is actually a scandal in my opinion.”

A proposal to establish a Veterans Commission was approved 6-1 with Colegio being the dissenting vote. As the proposal is currently written, five Warren residents would be appointed to the commission by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. While Colegio supports a Veterans Commission, she would prefer to see area veteran organizations like the VFW nominate people for appointment to the committee. Sadowski also questioned the process of the mayor making the appointments to this particular committee. Discussion of this item had been on the Committee of the Whole agenda for the previous night’s meeting but that meeting never took place as St. Pierre, Papandrea, and Steve Warner did not attend the meeting and there was no quorum. 

Other actions by city council last night include:

  • Rezoning of property at 2411 Eleven Mile Road from C-2, general business district, to M-2, medium light industrial district, was approved 5-2 with Stevens and Colegio logging the “no” votes.
  • A $900 increase to the city crime commission budget was approved,
  • A motion to send correspondence from Warren City Council to the Downtown Development Authority requesting all of the bills paid over the past two years was approved. This was previously requested by council but the bills were never produced by the DDA. Colegio said she was told she would have to pay $190 to view the bills. The representing city attorney said there had been some confusion as there would be no charge if the documents were requested by council as a whole but there would be if individual council members requested the documents. Papandrea and St. Pierre voted “no” on the motion.
  • An additional $28,000,000 in Capital Improvement Bonds for the Sanitary Relief Sewer Project which includes construction of the 22.4 million gallon basin at the old Roosevelt School property was approved.
  • Council tabled consideration of a resolution to approve a cost-sharing agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation for maintenance of traffic signal control at VanDyke and Civic Center North (gate 10 at the General Motors Tech Center). St. Pierre said council would revisit the request after GM and the UAW settle the current strike. 
  • A first reading of an amendment to the Rental Ordinance that would require owner-occupied dwellings rented for profit — like Airbnb — to obtain a rental license was approved. Sadowski and Papandrea voted against the proposal. 

Resident Dolores Prantara spoke at audience participation regarding her being told by an employee at Stilwell Manor that she was not allowed to donate food to the residents anymore. Prantara said she volunteers at a food bank where there was an excess and was given permission by the food bank to make a delivery to the residents at Stilwell. 

“I was let in by a resident who remembered me and took the food back to the pantry,” said Prantara. “I hugged a couple of the residents I knew and left. The next day I was told by a staff member I could never bring food there again and that it was a direct order from the mayor. That is a lack of compassion for people in need. You have shown your true colors.”

The next meeting of Warren City Council is scheduled for Oct. 22, 7 p.m. at the Warren Community Center on Arden. This will be the final meeting with the current city council as the election is Nov. 5 and the new council members will take office before the Nov. 12 meeting.

Veterans Commission on the Horizon; Audience Participation Gets Dicey

Warren City Council Recap for Sept. 24, 2019

By Susan Smiley

Warren resident Brett Felton saw his work come to fruition at last night’s Warren CIty Council meeting when his proposal for a Veterans Commission was well received. All council members agreed the city needs such an entity and voted to table the item so representatives from various veterans service organizations can be invited to a Committee of the Whole meeting to give their input. 

Felton is an Iraqi war veteran who believes his proposed commission could help improve the quality of life for veterans in the city. He would like to see tax reverted properties in the city rehabilitated for veterans and would like to work with area businesses to help veterans find jobs. 

“Veterans face problems that are often overlooked by society,” said Felton. “A veterans commission could help veterans become a large part of the Warren community.”

Felton would also like to see Warren have its own Veterans Day parade, which was supported by councilman Scott Stevens who is also a veterean. Council also supported Felton’s idea to have representatives from veterans service organizations around the city be part of the commision. 

“I think we should open this up to all VSOs in the city so that each has at least one represetative on the commission and they could be confirmed by Council,” said Stevens. “And yes, I don’t know why we don’t have a veterans parade in Warren.”

Although Felton suggested the members of the commission not be appointed by the mayor and be chosen or at least nominated by the veteran organizations, councilman Ronald Papandrea noted the city charter states the mayor must make the appointments for any city commission. 

Councilman Robert Boccomino, who is also a veteran, suggested getting input from veterans at the next Committee of the Whole meeting to better understand what is post important to them and what they most need from the proposed veterans commission.

“We could invite leadership from the veterans service organizations and get input from them,” said Boccomino. “I would like to hear first hand how many there are and how many are interested. We all agree that we need a commission.”

The only public hearing on the agenda was related to the logistics company being built at 9 Mile and Hoover. Crown Enterprises requested a vacation of Wagner Drive between Republic Avene and 9 Mile Road so the project can move forward. Some residents expressed concern about increased traffic in their neighborhood and also regarding the closure of Wagner leaving less options for ingress and egress. 

Michael Samhat spoke on behalf of Crown Enterprises and assured residents no commercial traffic would be going through their neighborhoods; trucks will be using entrances on 9 Mile and on Hoover exclusively. Samhat said the business will be servicing FCA’s Warren Truck Plant and is a 30 million dollar investment that is expected to create 300 new jobs. 

Council president Cecil St. Pierre noted there has been a resurgence in this area spurred  by this project as well as medical marijuana businesses that are expected to come into that area as well. 

Council voted unanimously to approve the Wagner vacation.

Stevens requested a reconsideration regarding an item on last meeting’s agenda approving C&G Newspapers for the publication of city legal notices in an amount not to exceed $36,309. Stevens expressed that in an election year, he is concerned that awarding any media outlet this type of contract compromises the news coverage from that entity. He believes they would be reluctant to write anything negative about the city because of having the contract. 

“I believe that is what is going on with the three local TV stations in our area because I know the mayor spent about $173,000 at each station to air the My Warren commercials,” said Stevens. “Now that it is election time and he spent his money you don’t hear a word. We spend almost $10,000 a month with C&G and I think that kind of money breeds familiarity.”

Stevens’ reconsideration failed and C&G will be awarded the contract. 

City engineer James Vanhavermaat gave an update on a couple of road projects around the city. The 12 Mile repaving will likely continue for another month and wrap up sometime around Halloween. The 14 Mile repaving project is expected to extend into late November. Council unanimously approved modification of the current cost-sharing agreement with the Macomb County Department of Roads and the City of Sterling Heights for the Mound Road Rehabilitation Project. The cost sharing will increase by $2,511 and the project is slated for spring or summer of 2021. 

“This is going to be a huge project,” said Vanhavermaat.

The Fire Department received unanimous approval to purchase two Lifepak 15 monitor/defibrillators as well as six Lucas Automated Chest Compression Systems. 

“The Lucas System is automated CPR,” said Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams. “It takes the human element out of it. One of the most important things about CPR is having consistency and this does that. We have had two loaners to try and we are very excited about the prospect of having them.”

The six chest compression systems will cost $92,409.

While discussing an agenda item from the Waste Water Treatment Plant to award a bid for Ferric Chloride to PVS Technologies, Inc. , which was approved unanimously, Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Colegio questioned division head of waste water treatment Bryan Clor regarding the retention basin project that has been in the works for several months. Colegio said she had documentation from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality from May of this year stating the planned basin is not going to be large enough and recommending the size of the basin be increased. The increased size of the basin also increases the cost of the project by about 20 million dollars to bring the total for the project in the area of 80 million. Clor verified that correspondence from the MDEQ and said his department has been gathering information regarding that change to the plan and will be presenting all of the data to city council and an upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting. 

A request by the Downtown Development Authority to schedule a public hearing in relation to a proposed rehabilitation district at One City Square was approved unanimously but not without criticism from Colegio regarding what she sees as an unwillingness of the DDA to keep city council apprised of its actions. 

“I really feel council has been left out of the development of this project,” said Colegio. “You go to the DDA web site and there are renderings and all kinds of things but nothing has been given to council.”

Colegio also reminded council that it voted at a prior meeting to ask for minutes from DDA meetings and a record of its bills. When those were not received, Colegio filed a Freedom of Information Act request but when she went to the city clerk’s office to view the minutes she was told there had been none filed since 2016. Colegio also set the record straight with regards to a letter council received from Economic Development Director Tom Bommarito stating that Colegio had accused the DDA of holding secret meetings. 

“I did not say anything about the DDA holding secret meetings,” said Colegio. “He must have that confused with my comments regarding the marijuana sub-committee. I asked for bills and I asked for minutes from the meetings. If you have to file a FOIA for that information which should be open to the public, I have to wonder what is in the bills and the minutes that you do not want us to see.”

Two items from Stevens were discussed at the end of the meeting. The first, a complaint from resident Maria Rivera, regarding charges for sanitation services to those living in the Woodside Circle condominiums, resulted in a call for investigation into the matter. Although Woodside Circle does not receive sanitation services from the city, Rivera noted she is being charged $200 annually for said services on her tax bill. She asked for that charge to be removed and for all residents of the condominium complex to receive retroactive rebates for the sanitation fees. Council agreed the matter warranted investigation by the sanitation department and agreed to put that in motion. 

Stevens also brought a complaint from resident John Clark regarding speeding on Michael Avenue to council. Clark submitted a petition with several signatures asking for signs to be posted in the area stating the speed limit and that there are “children at play,” The motion to approve the signage was unanimously approved and will be sent to the city traffic engineer to determine placement. 

Council unanimously approved a request from Richard Schnur of the Warren Police Department to retire with 25 years of service. 

Stephanie Harris of Turning Point made a presentation about October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the importance of victims of domestic violence having a place like Turning Point to offer support.

St. Pierre announced there is a Master Compost Course through Michigan State University’s extension program beginning next week. Classes are at 21885 Dunham Road and cost $50.

Audience participation was rather dicey and included a heated exchange between resident and medical marijuana advocate Frank Goralski and St. Pierre. Although council members are not supposed to respond to residents during audience participation, St. Pierre did just that which prompted a profanity-laced response from Goralski. Goralski was criticizing St. Pierre and giving his opinion that the city’s marijuana sub-committee is corrupt. 

The tension continued when resident Paul Kardasz called for Papandrea to resign because of tapes released this week in connection with one of the many lawsuits filed against the City of Warren in connection to the mairjuana sub-committee and the licensing of prospective marijuana businesses. 

“Much like your pass/fail system that you used when scoring applicants, I do feel you should resign,” said Kardasz. “Your actions and your words on that tape have resulted in a lawsuit against the city. The element of public corruption should be investigated.”

Kardasz specifically named Warren Chamber of Commerce President John Johnson; Deputy Public Service Director Gus Ghanam; and Bommarito as people who should be included in the investigation. 

Resident Lori Harris who has long complained about an illegal grow operation in her neighborhood also criticized the marijuana sub-committee and the actions of certain members of council overall. 

“I have seen a lot of unwise decisions by people who know better,” said Harris. “Warren is a joke; we are not seen as a progressive city that supports residents. We’ve lost our sense of community and safety.”

Harris specifically mentioned the bundling of tax-reverted properties, selective enforcement of blight ordinances, and corruption related to the marijuana sub-committee. 

“I am disappointed in your behavior and your selfishness, greed and dishonesty,” said Harris. “We are going to lose more and more because of your actions regarding medical marijuana.”

Resident and environmental activist Dave Orlowski criticized the city for cutting down two trees in his neighborhood that he estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. He said this is just one issue with the city’s lack of respect for the environment and despite warnings from St. Pierre kept talking past his three-minute allotted time. He stopped talking when the policeman in the back of the auditorium moved toward the podium to remove him. 

Medical marijuana patient and resident Sarah Garvey criticized the city for holding the court-ordered open meeting of the mairjuana subcommittee at 4 p.m. on a Friday.

“Some people have to work,” quipped Garvey, who reminded council that medical marijuana patients are “not just a bunch of stoners”. “I would like to see a list of the applicants so I can research who is going to be doing business in our city as a taxpayer and as a patient.”

The next Warren City Council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8, 7 p.m. at the Warren Community Center auditorium on Arden.

“Open” Marijuana Sub Committee Meeting Was Nothing but a Wink & Nod; Pay-for-Play to be Investigated

By Susan Smiley

The result of Tuesday’s court proceedings regarding one of the cases filed against the City of Warren dealing with its Marijuana Sub-Committee and its licensing procedures was an open meeting of the sub-committee which was supposed to add transparency to a process that has been anything but.

Judge Carl Marlinga ruled that the sub-committee had violated the open meetings act by holding closed meetings to discuss information  regarding applicants for the 15 available medical marijuana licenses in Warren. While there was disagreement as to how many of the 14 closed meetings were in question, Malinga agreed at least one of them should have been open to the public. 

On Sept. 17, Marlinga asked lawyers for the plaintiff, DFNVK LLC,  to sit down with lawyers for the City of Warren and try to hammer out a solution. Marlinga had stated previously  that while it could be that the solution would be to go back to square one and start the licensing procedure all over again, he would be open to a solution that allowed some of the data gathered  during the closed meetings to be used going forward. What Marlinga said he did not want to see was a one-time open meeting where the sub-committee listened to petitioners with a “wink and a nod” and then carried out its original plan. 

But that is exactly what happened at the Sept, 20 meeting which took place at 4 p.m. at the Warren Community Center.

Potential licensees and residents were allowed to speak for one minute. So people who were hoping to inspire sub-committee members to change their scores regarding the viability of their company to receive a license had just one minute to make their case. The scoring itself is part of what is being questioned as many applicants say the process has been less than transparent. Applicants know only what their numerical score was and not specifically where they fell short or where they gained points. Also being questioned is what was taken into consideration with regard to scoring. 

City attorney Ethan Vinson stated at the beginning of the meeting that the only reason it was scheduled was because it was court ordered and not because members of the committee agree that they previously violated the open meetings act. Cecil St, Pierre, who is City Council President and chairman of the sub-committee, also reiterated the meeting was pursuant to a court order and only certain things could be discussed at the meeting,

Just a smattering of some of the comments made by various LLCs during presentations at the Sept. 20 sub-committee meeting:

  • A representative for the LLC that was ranked 65th on the sub-committee’s list stated hers was the third company to receive pre-approval from the State of Michigan and questions how she could be ranked so low in the City of Warren.
  • A representative for Happy Trails LLC stated sub-committee scoring was unfair and that “what you are doing tonight on a rushed basis does not fix what was done and does not address the issue,” He also said the sub-committee did not follow its own ordinance with regard to scoring,
  • A representative from AEK LLC stated: “I met every criteria that you had and we are not in your top 10 and plan to take every legal action that we can.”
  • A representative for Viola, who identified the Colorado-based company as the largest African American owned cannabis company in the world, stated her organization was told it had a great chance to get a license and has a record of “flawless compliancy” where it is already operating in Colorado and in the City of Detroit but did not make the cut in Warren. She questioned how this was possible and said that Warren has a large minority population that needs to be represented by Viola Brands. https://violabrands.com/contact/
  • One LLC representative said a sub-committee member who was not present during his 20-minute presentation during the application process gave him the “lowest possible score”.
  • Alternative RX, according to their representative, was scored #2 in Madison Heights and “in the 30s in Warren.” He stated he was not sure how the sub-committee arrived at that score and said the process should enable petitioners to identify where points were lost. He named the cities of Lapeer, Lansing and Madison Heights as cities where the process was more transparent and where potential licensees were completely aware of the entire process, He made it clear that his experience in the City of Warren was unlike that of any other city where he had applied for a license.
  • Greenhouse Farms LLC’s representative said the process was not transparent and said he could not understand the result because he did not know how his company was scored and what was really taken into consideration. He stated: “Because the process appears corrupt it should be redone with new people or a third party. This (meeting tonight) is just lipstick on a pig.”

Warren resident Lori Harris spent most of her one-minute slot simply repeating the words: follow the money.

It seems that many of these things — including Harris’ call to follow the money — beg for investigation. The overall lack of transparency by the sub-committee taints the process to the point it is beyond repair. The city needs to go back to square one and gather a new committee and completely revamp the process to mirror the more transparent and viable processes in other cities. 

If the complaints of the various LLCs regarding the licensing process and residents decrying the fact that 14 of the marijuana sub-committee meetings were closed does not seem like enough reason to scrap what has been done and start over, consider the recent lawsuits filed regarding the marijuana licensing.

The violation of the Open Meetings Act was just one part of the lawsuit brought against the City of Warren by DFNVK LLC. Another part of that lawsuit alleges “pay-to-play” with regards to issuance of the marijuana licenses, 

In Judge Marlinga’s courtroom Sept. 17, Andrea M. Pike, the attorney representing the City of Warren against DFNVK LLC, stated that attorneys for the plaintiff were “stalling” the process of working out an agreement between the two parties and citied their calling for Mayor James Fouts and the city’s deputy public service director Gus Ghanam to give depositions in the case as the action used to stall proceedings. Pike stated that Fouts and Ghanam had nothing to do with the City of Warren Marijuana Sub-Committee so would have nothing relevant to say about the case.

Attorney for the plaintiff David Griem then stated that he had evidence of the involvement of Fouts and Ghanam in  “pay-to-play” involving marijuana licensing. 

A case filed Sept. 20 by Pure Roots LLC has attorney Chris Cataldo presenting a recording of Warren city councilman and marijuana sub-committee member Ronald Papandrea saying: “The best I can do for you is when you sue, I’ll tell the truth. That’s the best I can do because that’s my policy anyway, right? I’m not going to lie to the court, I’ll tell them I was against it for political reasons. It had nothing to do with the value of your application.” 

https://www.clickondetroit.com/michigan-marijuana/secret-recording-emerges-in-lawsuit-over-warrens-marijuana-licensing-process

At the very least, there is an appearance of impropriety and corruption. Meetings held that were closed to residents and the vague guidelines for scoring potential licensees show a complete lack of transparency, not only with regard to citizens but the LLCs applying for licenses as well. 

Expect more lawsuits to be filed in the near future.