Stilwell Manor Slated for Improvements; Trash Bin Storage Discussed

Warren City Council Recap for July 28, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — Stilwell Manor and Joseph Coach Manor will see improvements in the near future as Warren City Council voted unanimously to approve contracts for renovations to the Senior Housing Courtyard and replacement of the Stilwell Manor roof. 

Weatherseal Home Improvements was awarded the roofing contract in an amount not to exceed $181,690; Genoa Contracting will handle courtyard renovations in an amount not to exceed $248,429.

Sean Clark, who is currently the acting director of senior housing, said he is working to analyze all of the upgrades and improvements that need to be made and then make sure they are executed properly. Clark, who is the Public Works Manager,  is on temporary assignment with senior housing as the Senior Housing Commission searches for a new administrative director and full-time maintenance director. Councilman Garry Watts asked Clark for an update on hiring for those two positions as well as adding more housekeeping and maintenance positions. 

“We have hired a new part-time maintenance person and one of the things I have recommended is hiring more housekeeping staff,” said Clark. He indicated these would be employees working directly for the city as opposed to working for a private housekeeping service.

Clark said courtyard renovations would include demolition of the existing courtyard; repairing drainage; pouring new cement; and planting new trees, shrubs and flowers. 

“The big thing is that this will eliminate the drainage issues that we currently have,” said Clark. He also indicated he was taking bids for sidewalk repairs in the complex.

During audience participation, a resident of Joseph Coach Manor complained that cell phone service is spotty at best in her apartment complex. Councilman Eddie Kabacinski asked Clark to explain why that is the case. Clark said the bandwidth needs to be increased as the number of 5G phones are taxing the current, inadequate system and indicated this was on his to-do list.

During the new “neighborhood concerns” portion of the agenda, Kabacinski expressed concern about the number of DTE power outages affecting his district and called for more cooling centers and heating centers  for residents. 

Councilman Jonathan Lafferty brought up a home at 2508 Otter that has a caved-in wall that has created a large hole next to the house. He fears this is dangerous for children and animals in the neighborhood and asked if some kind of barricade could be erected to protect the property while arrangements are being made for it to be fixed. He also called for the rental license for a property on Stanley to be revoked as he believes it is an illegal AirBNB that is causing major disruptions in the neighborhood. 

Watts brought up an illegal business being run out of a residence at 8494 Darlene and also expressed concern about various commercial dumpsters around town that have no lids or are being left open and drawing rats and other vermin. Council Secretary Mindy Moore asked a dangerous stretch of sidewalk on 13 Mile near Hoover be addressed.

Council President Patrick Green said he was concerned about the relationship of the administration with some of the residents and suspended meeting rules to allow resident Elizabeth Lovas to speak during council’s discussion of resident and neighborhood concerns as opposed to during audience participation where residents are allowed three minutes to speak.Lovas spoke for more than five minutes criticizing Mayor James Fouts and several city employees including Amanda Mika. Lovas expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of various issues and in particular focused on receiving a phone call from Mika which she deemed inappropriate.

During the regular audience participation, several residents complained that Lovas had been given special treatment by council by being allowed to speak for more than three minutes and outside of the allotted agenda spot for residents to speak. City Attorney Ethan Vinson also questioned why the rules had been suspended for Lovas.

“That lady is no better than the rest of us,” said resident TIna Mills. “What makes her so special?” 

Some residents accused Lovas of reading a script provided by Green or another member of council and one person referred to her speech as a “prepared term paper.”

“If I didn’t know any better I would think that speech was carefully scripted by a member of council who typically sounds that bullhorn,” said resident Gary Jury. “For most of this council, everything has become about personal agendas that have nothing to do with the residents of Warren and those agendas are hindering forward progress.”

Parts of the approval of the bills were put on hold as Moore questioned $14,000 in expenditures for newsletters without explanation as to which newsletters the payments were related. Watts asked to hold back payment to mowing vendor Unique Clips until council was assured they had actually met the parameters of their contract. Councilwoman Angela Rogensues agreed that should be done and asked for an update to be provided by Superintendent of Public Works Dale Walker as to a letter he had sent to Unique Clips giving them notice the city was not happy with their work. Moore also questioned the revenue report which she said seemed to have several line items that were over budget. 

County Clerk Fred Miller gave a short presentation about voting in the upcoming primary election next week. He reminded voters that you must not split your vote between parties in the primary and asked residents to mail in their absentee ballots as soon as possible or use the drop box provided for ballots at City Hall. He also reminded residents that they can register to vote up to and on election day as long as they have a valid driver’s license or a state identification card. 

Two of six public hearing items were tabled: a request for rezoning of property on 10 Mile and Dequindre and a request for rezoning of property on Los Angeles and Methuen streets. 

The remaining four public hearing items were all approved: a lot split at 31803 Van Dyke Avenue; rezoning of property at 30079 Schoenherr Road from one-family residential to office district; and the demolition of houses at 2192 Otis and 23090 Stewart.

Watts proposed a resolution that was approved to allow revenue gathered from EMS billing to be funnelled back to the fire department. Green compared the proposed procedure to how drug forfeiture funds are used to make capital expenditures for the police department. 

“I would like to propose to send this to our attorney so he can write a resolution and also find out how much we are collecting on EMS runs because I understand it is more than $3 million,” said Watts. 

Lafferty asked for clarification regarding the storage of trash bins for residents. 

“I had a resident contact me that there was a citation issued because of the placement of garbage bins and it was my understanding the ordinance had been relaxed,” said Lafferty. 

The ordinance does state that residents may store the bins on the side of the house as long as they are partially shielded from view of the general public. Lafferty noted that the city ordered the large bins knowing that every house does not have perfect storage accommodations for them, 

“I’m just asking that we ensure there is equal application of the ordinance,” said Lafferty. “I know we can all drive down our streets and see the bins everywhere. How does the city address this when one person has been cited for what everyone else is doing?”

Other items approved by council included:

  • A request by Kabacinski for a traffic study to see about installing a temporary left turn lane at Stephens and Hoover. 
  • Awarding of a contract to Mark Anthony Constructing, Inc. for reconstruction and water main replacement on Eureka Avenue in an amount not to exceed $1,986,060.
  • Awarding a contract for Sanitary Sewer Retention Basis Cleaning to Superior Environmental Solutions for $539,165. 
  • Request for a fire apparatus request for proposal (RFP) and appointment of Councilman Watts to serve on that committee. 

Key points brought up by residents during audience participation included:

  • Why Warren police do not have body cams. Macomb County Black Caucus President Joel Rutherford said he was told the police are doing a study regarding body cams but no one has provided a timeline for actually getting the equipment for the officers 
  • Trash collection in Heritage Village. Residents have asked why they are paying taxes for trash pickup when they are not receiving those services from the city. Residents have asked for a study to see if Warren’s sanitation department is able to handle the job. 
  • The state of the parks and specifically the locked bathrooms at several parks. “Every person who talks to Dino Turcato gets a different story about the park restrooms,” said resident Laurie Artz. “I would like to see the parks and recreation website updated so we could see some information.” 
  • Removal of the fence at Ridgewood Park. Residents say the fence is dangerous and should be removed as was promised by the previous council a year ago.
  • The state of the landscaping at City Hall. “It looks like an abandoned building because of the lack of maintenance to the landscaping,” said resident Tom Craig. “The mayor wants this whole downtown development but the city is doing nothing to make that an appealing location.”
  • Concern over water pollution caused by Oakland County dumping into the Red Run.
  • Concern over communication issues from the city to the residents and a call for an updated and revamped website as well as better communications on the city council Facebook page. A call for Mayor Fouts to stop using his personal Facebook page to communicate about city matters. 
  • A call for better adherence to the City Charter.
  • Residents questioning the status of Amanda Mika and if she is or is not working with the city and asking if she is not working for the city that she not be allowed access to city computers or other information to which any other resident would not have access. 
  • An important announcement from City Treasurer Lorie Barnwell: tax bills are in the mail and should arrive no later than Aug. 7.
  • Concern over grass not getting cut on city-owned property.

The next Warren City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 11, 7 p.m. You may access the meetings via Zoom by clicking on the link provided in the agenda posted on the City of Warren website https://www.cityofwarren.org/government/city-council/

Q&A With Black Caucus President Joel Rutherford

By Susan Smiley

Earlier this week I sat down with Macomb County Democratic Black Caucus President Joel Rutherford. He shared his views on diversity, the justice system, and the importance of voter education. Rutherford talked about how different municipalities are addressing issues of diversity and focused on Macomb County’s largest city, Warren, where he resides.

Smiley: Last year was a local election year for the City of Warren and many other municipalities. Despite Macomb County and Warren becoming more and more diverse, elected officials have not followed suit. Why do you think that is and what can be done to change that?

Rutherford: The problem with that is we have people that have been in power for decades. It has become generational. There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion but when there is time to act and  make that happen, that’s what I haven’t seen from elected officials. Not the real action that is required. 

There is reluctance, I think, about upsetting the older, white voting population so they stay with kind of the status quo. People will say things to a point, but you always feel like there is a barrier there about not going too far — not being too forceful about it or too outspoken about it. Because  they don’t want to upset those voters and have them think that we are radical because we want different people in office.

And it is also about sharing power. Some people look at it as communities of color wanting to take over; no, we just want a seat at the table. Elected officials should be willing to share that power. They have had it for so long, why not share? But instead it is like “No, this is mine and I am going to hold onto it.”

Smiley: Where in Macomb County has there been the most diversity in terms of elected officials? 

Rutherford: I have to say Eastpointe because of the mayor’s race and the person appointed to the city council, at least you have two black people there. But I think in Eastpointe, you have a population that  is 40% black, so you would have thought this would have happened YEARS ago. But I guess you have to take what you can get. Other than that you would have to go out to New Haven where Chris Dilbert is the president, but again, I think because of the population there, that is what makes the difference. 

Mount Clemens seems like it was better. They have one African American on their City Commission now and we will have to wait until the election on August 4th to see if they are going to add another. There were two but Roger Bunton didn’t run for re-election and then Sonny Ford passed away. So they are trying to fill Sonny’s seat with that election. 

But the other communities from the county down – county commissioners, state reps — it is all just a void. It is going to change but it is going to take a lot of effort. But that effort is going to have to be made by the white community being willing to accept elected officials that look different from them.

Smiley: Warren City Council has proposed adding a diversity and inclusion commission. Do you support this and if so, how would you like to see these entities work within the city? What kinds of things should they be doing?

Rutherford: It is a good start but it depends who ends up on the commission because the mayor appoints them. How much actual influence will they actually have on city government? My request was that they should be allowed direct access to all department heads without having to go through the mayor — I mean, they can advise the mayor they are doing it but should not have to ask his permission. That is especially important with the human resources department. So if they see a disparity in employment in the city they can try and find ways to institute changes.  I’m not talking quotas, I am not talking about that at all. I am  talking about fairness. And when I say city employees I am not just talking about police and fire. Let’s open up those offices in city hall. That is where those commissions can really do some good.  If they have enough influence and enough independence to go where they need to go, they can say we will not only bring the problem to you, we can make suggestions on how to fix it. 

Smiley: You have made the statement that just because your organization is called the Black Caucus, it does not mean that you are anti-white. Can you expand on that statement? 

Rutherford:  If my house is on fire, it does not mean that your house next door is not important. But let’s deal with the fire here first. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get fire protection, but can we first deal with the fire that we have right now. 

I think the thing is, politics have driven people into sides and some people refuse to see the fact that there is a real issue there. That issue has been there for hundreds of years. It is not a matter of trying to blame everybody for what happened 400 years ago, but it is saying: what can we do to get some fairness? Because honestly, I don’t see equality in the equation. And maybe that sounds very negative and I don’t mean it to be; I am just trying to be realistic. Everyone seems to think this is just about the police and it is not. It is about many different things. It is about healthcare. Look at what has happened during Covid-19. Why are black folks dying at such a high rate compared to other parts of the population? Because of the lack of health care. Look at the lack of wealth in black communities or even the kind of wealth that you can pass down. The lack of being able to get, really, into the right education to make that kind of economic advance. 

So there are all of these things that need to be dealt with.

Black Lives Matter may have started over, tragically, things like the death of George Floyd but let’s face it, what happened with George Floyd has been happening for hundreds of years. But now we have video of it so now people can’t say “I don’t know what you’re talking about” or “That’s not really true.”

If your answer to Black Lives Matter is All Lives Matter, but then when they say Blue Lives Matter and you don’t have an issue with that, well, then really what you have an issue with is “black.” That is what people do not want to face. Everyone is not a racist and we know that, but there have been issues that are racially driven and so let’s do something to correct that. Let’s just make things fair for people.

Smiley: This week President Trump has said he wants to send federal troops into various cities to control violence. Most of the cities he mentioned — Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia — have large black populations. Do you believe the black community is being targeted?

Rutherford: What he is doing is harkening back to George Wallace or Richard Nixon — the  law and order president — and look how he turned out. 

I’m retired from the military and also from civil service. You take an oath to the U.S. Constitution and not to the president. So it is sad there are people willing to go do that strictly because they have that aggressive tendency. It is the same with the militarization of police. If you give them too many things, they are going to want to use those things. 

Smiley:  Police brutality has been a long-standing problem in many communities that has recently come into focus because of George Floyd. Many suggestions from defunding the police to more anti-bias training to working with police unions who many say protect the bad players have been discussed. What do you think is the best way to address police brutality?

Rutherford: Body cams are not just  to say “ this is what the police did wrong” but to say “this is what actually happened.” So having body cams is a must.   

Warren police do not have body cams and when I called Commissioner Dwyer ‘s office about it, he told me they were doing a study about it. That is why at the last city council meeting I suggested that if he wants to learn about them, Dwyer should call Chief Craig in Detroit. 

In the state of Michigan, you need more hours of training to be a barber than to be a police officer. Something is wrong with that picture. I’m talking about initial screening, psychological evaluations, and those evaluations should happen annually. Because someone might start out with a certain idea about being in law enforcement but after a year or two or three, that can change.  That is why we talk about PTSD and things like that with people who are in combat. So I think that is part of what needs to happen. 

But we also cannot expect police officers to solve all of our issues. Why is there so much money spent to have a police officer in a school,  but not counselors, social workers and psychologists? Putting a cop there is not an answer. OK, you might be able to SCARE some kids into not doing stuff but why not deal with what their issues are? Deal with the stress or the drug abuse. Put people in there who are professionals and let them handle it.  Do not ask police officers to do that kind of work; that is not what they are there for. 

Sadly.  defunding the police, I wish would have been stated as redirecting their resources. Because in the City of Warren I believe it is almost 40% of the budget that goes to the police. Why? I understand they have to fund their retirements and all that kind of stuff. But we can’t get anyone to mow the grass. Why can’t the parks be taken care of or even the bathrooms opened? How is it that Sterling Heights is able to have theirs open? They are open and I guess they go through and sanitize them on a regular basis throughout the day. Is it just a matter you can’t do it or is it that you don’t want to do it? The police department gets all that they do because people like to look like they are tough on crime. But yet they are never dealing with the root causes of why that crime tends to happen in certain areas.

Smiley: It doesn’t stop and end with the police, though, right? Judges, juries, the whole criminal justice system is due for an overhaul. What needs to happen?

Rutherford: Our Caucus is trying to educate people on the importance of the prosecutor’s office.They have so much power in how they charge people or how they don’t charge people. I mean, look at the recent case with the Amazon driver. The City of Warren wanted to charge him with a felony and the county prosecutor said “no.” Now, I’m disappointed that the prosecutor’s office came back and he is being charged with the two misdemeanors. I think that was kind of a way of making nice with the police when realistically, that should have been a parking ticket, end of story. 

There needs to be a citizens review board for the police department. It is not like you are trying to tell the police commissioner how to run the department, but when there are issues or problems, have some way to address them. Because I don’t get the impression that is what the Crime Commission is set up to do. But you need some kind of civilian oversight.

But it is not just the police. It is everything from prosecutors to judges. You are putting people in jail because they can’t post a couple of hundred dollars bond, so they are going to just sit in jail over a non-violent crime. Or they have to get family members to mortgage their house or something just to get the bond money. We should be asking why we have a cash bail system that judges are using especially over non-violent crimes. Suspended driver’s license is one of the biggest. 

Judicial influence has so much power. Let’s take Macomb County, even though it is probably the same everywhere. Once they are in and they get that name recognition they stay in there. But are people really looking at what they are doing at all? Unless you are sitting in court on a regular basis, it is hard to know. 

Smiley: The Congressional Black Caucus places a lot of importance on police being in the community and part of the community to help diminish racism and build trust between citizens and police. What are some ways this can be done?

Rutherford: I can’t remember when it was the Michigan Supreme Court ruling came down that police officers do not have to live in the community where they work. So you have Detroit police officers living out in northern Macomb County. Now, how really connected are they to the areas that they have to patrol?

The other thing is, they are taking their money out of the City of Detroit but they are spending it out in Macomb. They are buying homes there, shopping there and what good is that doing the City of Detroit? It is the same in Warren. If police officers don’t have to live here how can they really know what is going on in the community. If they live in the community, they are more connected. That is one of those things that I think should be a requirement for people who work for the city, especially for a job like that. 

But that is not the law, so that is not going to happen. But police need to interact with the residents. Here in Warren I don’t see cops getting out of their car and talking to people about what is going on. I think they would find out a whole lot more if they would do that instead of just showing up because someone has called 911. That is the kind of community policing that needs to happen to make them more aware of what is actually going on. 

There is a saying that you can be over patrolled and under protected. Not just in black communities but any communities of color and where people are poor. Cops will spend a lot of time just  to arrest people but I don’t think they are spending the time to really get to know the people who live there.  

You have community police officers, but no one knows who they are. When was the last town hall meeting to introduce themselves to the residents? When is the last time they’ve been out there in the communities asking people what is on their minds?

Smiley: You have called for the resignation of Warren’s Police Commissioner William Dwyer; why?

Rutherford: My biggest reason was with the Amazon driver incident when they requested felony charges. That showed me he was more interested in protecting his officers than doing what is right. That showed me where his priorities are. In that kind of leadership position, your priority should not be protecting the officer. That is what the police union is for. You need to look at what the right and just thing is to do. 

Smiley: Are you concerned about voter suppression in Macomb County? 

Rutherford: Yes.  I think three of the polls (in Michigan) with the least amount of voting are in Warren and they are all south of 696. It makes me wonder when I see that….what is going on there that people just are not voting?  I always think there is more to it than that people just do not want to vote. I would like to find out the reasons behind it. 

One place I know in Mount Clemens they moved the polling place from Jermaine Jackson Community Center which is east of Gratiot to the police station. I don’t know a lot of people of color who are going to want to go and vote at the police station. 

Voter education is also very important. An absentee ballot is a great idea but if you do not educate people how to do it, will it be beneficial?

Smiley: Warren is ranked, I believe, 8th in the nation for cities of its size for court-ordered evictions. Explain how race figures into this and how the rental situation in Warren affects people of color.

Rutherford: If you are in the top 10 in the entire country for that, something is drastically wrong. How do you go about fixing that?

You can pull the business license if they are not doing what they are supposed to do as landlords. DO that. Don’t just give them slaps on the wrist or basically do nothing and then act surprised when nothing changes. Is there renter/ landlord mediation available? It should be. 

If an owner is not paying their taxes, the renter should be notified because that way, they are not paying money to a landlord that is not paying taxes and then end up being evicted because they have foreclosed on the landlord.  

I really wonder what is the standard for rentals? Is there is a real standard  that they have for rentals or is it a very vague thing where if an inspector wants to take action they do but if they don’t they don’t?  Are rentals inspected annually? I would like to see some kind of mediation that does not have to go to court. If tenants are having problems that are not getting fixed they have a place to go and a way to resolve it and  if resolving it means the tenant has to move then OK, that is what they have to do. But have a different outlet other than “Oh, you have to go right now.” 

Smiley: I believe statistics say that it is most often minorities, women and young people who rent.

Rutherford: Yes, and those are the groups that are easy to turn your back on. 

They are looked on as transients who do not vote and have no political power, even though they do. But if they are not voting, why should elected officials care. And that is a hard attitude to change in people. We can’t  stop all of the money that pours into politics, but we can vote. Not voting just silences your voice. If you are not voting it is not going to change things. 

I mean, there are other cities that are doing this right. Why not look at what they are doing that is working and do that? The administration and city council has to know we are in the top 10 for court ordered evictions so you would think that would be a priority. But how much have you heard about it? I haven’t heard anything. 

Smiley: How can an upgrade to a city’s master plan foster diversity? 

Rutherford: First of all, in Warren,I think I would like to see some more town halls about the master plan. I think that residents who were not really connected to politics were just thinking “ho hum, another thing” and not realizing how important it was when the initial town halls were happening. I would like to see them set up virtual town halls in each district or send something out to people asking what are the top three things they would like to see in the city. Make it easy — postage free so you make it easy for people. Collect the data and see what is important. It might show that what is going on in northwest Warren is something very different than what is going on in southeast Warren. 

But here is the other part of it, you have to listen and I just do not get the impression that most elected officials — not just in Warren but in the entire county — really listen to what residents have to say. That is the big issue right there. They are the smartest people in the room and “let them eat cake.”

Smiley: I feel like there is always a lot of talk about north versus south in Warren but truthfully, there is an east versus west thing too. 

Rutherford: Absolutely. I look at the way the districts are cut and I think why are they not cut east / west instead of north / south?  If you really want a fair representation, why wouldn’t you do it that way. 

Smiley: What about cutting the city in quarters, one district councilperson from each and three at large?

Rutherford: Only thing is it costs more money to run at large than it does in a district. So is the person who can come to the table with a big pot of money going to be more effective? I’m not sure what the best way is to do it but there has to be better representation than what there is now. I just don’t see how the current setup works well.  

Smiley: Warren has been listed as a former “sundown town” The ethnic makeup of the city has changed since those days, but the city still has a reputation for being racist. Can Warren — can Macomb County –ever shake that image? 

Rutherford: How do you change that many people’s attitudes?  You have union workers  voting for someone like Trump. So, you are going to vote against your own best interests? How are you possibly going to change attitudes when it comes to things having to do with people who are different races, cultures and religions? A lot of it is just fear. People base it on things they have heard when they were being brought up. But use your brain! You can look and say to yourself that you can see that is not what is really happening. 

Macomb County and Warren did not get here in five or 10 years. It is generational. Because it is generational,  to try to change that, you have to get a lot of people to get on board with a different attitude. That is going to take generations to get it where it needs to be. The problem is, like I said before, there is a lot of talk about making changes but not a lot of action.

Smiley: What are your goals as president of the Macomb County Black Caucus in the coming months?

Rutherford: I think voter education is big. I think people go in to vote and it is too much name recognition. People do not take the time to see who they are voting for and what they do or do not stand for. This is so important,  you need to put some effort into it. Take time and do research.

 In the black community and other areas of color you really need to do that research and know what it is all about. Everyone is going to be your best buddy when they are trying to get elected, but what is going to happen after? 

And look at the ballot from the bottom to the top. Take the things that you think are least important, because they may be the things that have the most direct impact on your daily life. Eventually you will get to who is running for senator or president but local officials have the most impact on your day-to-day life. So don’t take that lightly. 

But that is going to take time. It is a marathon , not a sprint. So don’t think it is going to happen overnight. Just like in the local elections here in Warren. We had good candidates,but they did not get elected. But they learned some things so now let’s  take that knowledge and move forward. That is what I will be doing next year is looking for people who want to run and make them understand they need to network so that people really know who they are. 

The Caucus is also going to work on cooperating more with other groups. We all tend to work in our own little universes and we can be a lot more effective if we can just work together. We need to stop focusing on the little bit that we don’t agree on and focus on the wide array of things on which we do agree.

Tax Collection Date Extended; Mowing Contract Questioned; Residents Sound Off About the Libraries

Warren City Council Recap for July 14, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — Warren residents will have a little more time to pay their summer taxes this year. City Council unanimously approved a request from City Treasurer Lorie Barnwell asking that the collection of late fees be waived until September 15, 2020. 

“When the budget was approved on the 30th of June, we thought tax bills would be issued on time, but when the tax rates were released they were not what council approved,” said Barnwell. “If we send out tax bills with the wrong rate we will have to send reimbursement checks so we want to make sure this is done right and that it is done legally.”

Barnwell said the matter has been forwarded to the state attorney general’s office to determine the correct tax rate. Council approved a budget June 30 that included a reduction in the library millage which would give residents a modest tax decrease. Mayor James Fouts signed a form indicating the original millage rate was in place. Until this issue is settled, Barnwell can not send tax bills to residents. 

“I have talked to many residents and overwhelmingly they have been supportive and would rather us not send out tax bills that are not correct,” said Barnwell. Barnwell said her office is able to provide an estimate to people who are in the midst of buying a home and need that tax information in order to close. 

A 12-year Industrial Facilitation Tax Exemption for Modular Automotive Systems, LLC was approved unanimously. The company is building its facility on the site of the old Stacy’s Driving Range and expects to invest $14 million in the project. A spokesperson for Modular said they expect to create 100 new jobs and would like to do the majority of hiring from within the city.

District Four Councilman Garry Watts initiated a discussion regarding various blight issues. While his main focus was on grass mowing, he also brought up the condition of Warren’s parks and firehouses.

With regard to the grass mowing, Watts said he observed the city’s contractor, Unique Clips, mowing over garbage and leaving it mixed in with the grass and blowing all of the garbage that had been cut up in the mower into the street.

“This company needs to go,” said Watts. 

Public Works Superintendent Dale Walker reminded Council he recommended that Unique Clips not be hired despite being the lowest bidder due to issues the city has had with them over the past seven years. Walker had advised Council to approve the second-lowest bidder for the contract. Council approved Unique Clips, the mayor vetoed it, then council overrode the veto. Following the approval for the hiring of Unique Clips, Public Service Director Gus Ghanam indicated that he was able to bring all mowing back in house and indicated the city had the equipment and staffing to handle all of the mowing.

“We were told at a public meeting they were going to do the grass cutting in house and since then, they gave it to this company,” said Watts. 

“This is not the contractor I signed the proposal for or that I wanted,” said Walker. “I tried to tell you guys this contractor would not live up to the expectations. I am in the middle of sending out a poor-performance notice to this contractor and they have 10 days to correct the situation.”

If the contractor does not make the proper corrections, the contract may be terminated. Walker indicated that should that happen, he is confident all mowing can be handled in-house by city employees and there would not be a need to hire a different contractor. District Five Councilman Eddie Kabacinski yelled at Walker and pressed him to engage in more drastic measures to right the situation with Unique Clips and stated that he did not feel a letter was a strong enough response. Walker explained that procedure must be followed. 

Watts says more needs to be done to address all of the blight issues in the city.

“Firehouses are in disrepair and the parks are a disaster zone,” said Watts. “Everything has been let go by this administration.”

A resolution put forth by Council Secretary Mindy Moore requesting appointment and payroll records from the office of the mayor and the authorization to subpoena those records if they are not produced was approved unanimously. Moore said the controversy over the elimination of Amanda Mika’s executive administrator position raised concerns regarding positions, titles and salaries in the mayor’s office. The resolution calls for copies of pay stubs for all part-time and full-time employees in the mayor’s office,  copies of W-2 forms issued to those employees for wages earned in 2019, and all appointment letters filed by the mayor to be given to Council no later than 5 p.m. on July 22, 2020.

“We have realized that there have been violations of the City Charter and so this resolution is being proposed,” said Moore. 

“I am going to vote for this because I am in favor of transparency,” said Councilwoman Angela Rogensues. “But at some point in time I would urge people across the city to try and work together. I hope everything does not end up having to go to litigation.” 

Council President Patrick Green said the city council has repeatedly asked the administration for information and none was received. 

“I would like a good relationship going back and forth,” said Green. “We have tried. But Ms. Moore and I were in a meeting with the mayor and five minutes into it, he was screaming at us.”

Moore then lashed out at Rogensues saying she receives special treatment from the administration because she is “on team Fouts.” Rogensues countered by saying she is “just on team constituents.”

Moore also expressed her shock regarding comments by city employees during audience participation in which the city employees called out residents by name for. Property Maintenance Supervisor Robert Scott and Mika both criticized individual residents. 

“I’ve been around the city for a long time and many times, Mr. Fouts and I disagreed on things but I never, ever heard him insult a resident and never heard an appointee insult a resident until tonight,” said Moore. 

More than two hours of last night’s six-hour plus meeting were dedicated to audience participation. A main theme for many residents who spoke was preservation of the library millage and concern that with the Covid-19, Warren libraries will need the money that was in surplus to make social distancing accommodations. Many emphasized the need for a library or library services on the East side of the city.

“Three libraries have already closed and are pushing most people to the Civic Center Library,” said resident Pat Bernieri. “We will need every dollar to make sure our libraries are safe. Let the library millage rate stand.”

Former councilwoman Kelly Colegio said libraries are important to residents and were brought up time and time again during citizen meetings regarding the city’s Master Plan.

“Over and over again, libraries were brought up as something that makes a good neighborhood,” said Colegio. “The residents in the David Area neighborhood, which is a little triangle in the Southeast portion of the city, has requested a small library for years. The superintendent of VanDyke Public Schools has wanted to partner with the city to do something like that.” 

Library administrator Oksana Urban said she would like to add electrical outlets to the libraries so that more residents can plug in their computers and would like to see a library on the city’s East side as well as enhancements to the current libraries. 

“There are things I have started that I have not been able to complete because I do not have the capital outlay,” said Urban. 

Resident Greg Donahoe took issue with what he saw as the city council spinning the library millage decrease as a tax cut.

“The council reduced the millage of the library that was set by voters and did it without consulting the library commission, “ said Donahoe. “While you are patting yourself on the back for a tax cut, the water rates went up.” Donahoe said he understands the council had to approve the water rate hike but that the increase overrides the small savings residents would see with the cut to the library millage. “You waited until the last possible minute to pass the budget so it was not transparent or appropriate.”

Other concerns voiced by residents included:

  • Resident Joel Rutherford asked that getting body cameras for Warren Police be made a top priority, 
  • Resident David Metzler asked why EBT cards and credit cards are not taken at the Warren Farmer’s Market and why there is not more blight enforcement on the North end of the city.
  • Many residents expressed their thoughts on the elimination of Mika’s position in the mayor’s office. Several spoke in favor of keeping her in the position and accused council members of having a personal issue with her while others said her position should be eliminated. Resident VIckie Wybo-Yuhase said she does not believe Mika should be allowed to be working in the mayor’s office as a volunteer if she has been removed from her position and the payroll. She questioned Mika having access to possible classified and sensitive city information when she is no longer a city employee. Jeremy Fisher echoed her comments and expressed concern that the city might get sued if Mika continues to work in the mayor’s office when she is not actually employed by the city.
  • Laurie Artz asked when bathrooms at Warren parks would be open and when Warren libraries would reopen. She pointed out that surrounding cities have opened their libraries and park bathrooms.
  • City Attorney Ethan Vinson expressed concern about the communication breakdown between mayor and council and warned that going to litigation on every issue is a “slippery slope” and one he believes to be counterproductive. 
  • Planning Director Ronald Wuerth expressed displeasure at comments made by Papandrea criticizing the planning department and complained about the council cutting an assistant planning position. With the Master Plan revision and its implementation, Wuerth indicated he needs all hands on deck and would have been short staffed even with the position that was cut.
  • Lori Harris asked for an update on the state of marijuana licenses in the city.
  • Kate Smith said she is putting together a recall petition for members of CIty Council.
  • Resident Gloria Sankuer expressed concern over city lawsuits for which she believes taxpayers will bear the burden. She suggested the creation of a negotiating committee and asked that solutions other than litigation be considered. “You are not suing the mayor, you are suing the citizens because we the taxpayers are paying for it,” she said.
  • Colegio suggested if term limits are to go back on the ballot in November, the matter of council districts should also be put back to the voters.

Watts and Papandrea initiated a discussion regarding the hiring of city firefighters. There are 20 vacant positions and a recruiting campaign by Human Resources Director George Dimas has resulted in only six applications for those 20 positions thus far. 

“It turns out we are much less competitive than other cities,” said Papandrea. 

Watts said Warren’s retirement plan and health care are issues for recruits and that often, new firefighters will work in the city for a couple of years and then move to a different department offering better pay and benefits. Council agreed this is an issue that needs to be addressed and a long-term solution devised. 

Three requests from the city’s engineering department were approved:

  • Awarding a contract for pavement repairs to Zuniga Construction for an amount not to exceed $1,567,938.
  • Awarding a contract to Mark Anthony Contracting for reconstruction of Bruce Avenue in an amount not to exceed $339,604.
  • Awarding a contract to Scodeller Construction for joint and crack sealing in an amount not to exceed $292,005.

While City Engineer James VanHavermaat was explaining the scope of the projects, District Two Councilman Jon Lafferty asked for a list of Warren roads from first to worst — a request he has made previously, VanHavermaat said no such list exists and it is difficult to rank roads on a list because different areas of a single road are likely to vary in condition. He said there is a map that shows the condition of all Warren roads which is what cities typically use to identify which roads are in the greatest need of repair,

Other items approved at last night’s meeting include:

  • The tabling of a request to rezone the old K-Mart property on 10 Mile from general business to medium light industrial.
  • Approval of HOPWA Cares Act Agreement with Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency for emergency housing assistance for those impacted by Covid-19.
  • Approval of a request by the sanitation department to purchase 1,098 recycling bins for $46,961 to fulfil resident requests. 

The next regular meeting of the Warren City Council is scheduled for July 28, 7 p.m. Residents can join the meeting via Zoom by going to the CIty of Warren web site and clicking on the link at the top of the CIty Council Agenda.

Warren City Council Calls for Legal Action Against Mayor Fouts

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — The Warren City Council held a special meeting at 9 a.m., Saturday, July 11 and unanimously approved a resolution calling for legal action to prevent Mayor James Fouts from imposing a non-approved budget. Councilman Eddie Kabacinski was not present at the meeting.

Council approved the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year Budget at a special meeting on June 30, 2020. Several amendments to the original budget submitted by Fouts were approved including a reduction in the library millage. 

Council President Patrick Green and Secretary Mindy Moore indicated that the mayor had illegally altered legal form I-4029, which is supposed to be signed by the council president or chairman, by using “white out” to block out that title and write in “mayor” before signing the form. The form confirms tax rates and incorrectly listed the library millage rate as being higher than what council approved. 

“The mayor has decided to impose his own budget instead of the adopted budget the council passed,” said Green. “Expenditures outside of an approved budget are invalid. The treasurer is anxious to send out tax bills and if she sends them out now, residents will be incorrectly taxed on the library millage.”

Green said the library fund has a large amount of money — more than it is budgeted to spend over the next fiscal year — and that council wanted to give residents a modest tax break by reducing the library millage. The mayor’s original budget kept the millage at the higher rate.

Moore pointed to the Warren City Charter which she interprets as saying the council, not the mayor, is legally responsible for approving the city budget. She said the mayor does have an option to veto, but that he did not implement that option. 

“The mayor had an option to veto the budget and did not do so in the allotted time,” said Moore. “The mayor is ignoring the adopted budget and using his own budget. He has completed and certified the wrong tax rate for the library operating millage. What he did is really putting our treasurer in a bad position because in essence, he is asking her to break the law by sending out the tax bills with the incorrect millage rate.”

Councilman Ronald Papandrea called for both council and the administration to work toward compromise. 

“I am never against getting a judicial interpretation of our Charter because many times there are conflicts over what the Charter means, “ said Papandrea. “But I would respectfully suggest that in the past, there have been different priorities between council and mayor and those have been solved by meeting with the city controller to see if a compromise can be reached.”

Councilman Garry Watts, who has resided in the city for more than 50 years, says Fouts has been unwilling to work with council and has repeatedly stonewalled members of council seeking information about the budget.

“I would like to remind everyone that the mayor had every opportunity to deal with this and talk to us about the budget,” said Watts. “For him to go down this road is unbelievable. He is not just the king ruler. It is like the mayor wants to be a dictator and that is not how it works.”

Lafferty believes the mayor’s altaring of a legal document should be brought to the attention of the Macomb County prosecutor and one resident said the matter should go to State Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

“I believe the court is the right place to have this resolved,” said Lafferty. “ We need someone to say who has the last word on the budget. According to the Charter we do. That is our role. We take the recommended budget and go through it with a fine tooth comb. That is what the mayor should be following. For him to do anything but is negligent of HIS role.”

City Attorney Ethan Vinson spoke during audience participation at the meeting. Earlier this year, the city council hired its own legal representation because it felt Vinson was not representing them but was instead pushing the mayor’s agenda. Vinson is not surprised that the conflict between mayor and council has resulted in litigation. 

“It became apparent to me after this council took office they were on a collision course with the mayor,” said Vinson. “The only question was what the issue would be that would finally send things to court. You can’t even reason with each other and  compromise is an essential element of democracy. When I reviewed the Charter it said  thatI report to council and to the mayor but you have made that impossible and declared war on me which is not living with the spirit of the Charter. Maybe this is right to let a judge decide what is right.”

The next meeting of the Warren City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at 7 p.m. https://www.cityofwarren.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020.07.14_CC_Agenda.pdf

Council Approves Budget, Language for Mayoral Term Limit Ballot Proposal

Warren City Council Special Meeting Recap June 30, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — Warren City Council approved the 2020/2021 Fiscal Year Budget 5-2 with councilpersons Eddie Kabacinski and Ron Papandrea being the two who did not favor its adoption. 

Council Secretary Mindy Moore read a long list of amendments to the original budget, none of which were included in an online e-packet for residents nor, apparently, to council members prior to the meeting.

“I would have liked to have had the amendments in advance, even an hour before the meeting, so that I could make an educated decision on the budget,” said Councilwoman Angela Rogensues. 

Papandrea was also perplexed: “The budget vote is the most important thing that we do. I need to see changes to the budget 24 hours in advance and I would like to get (city controller) Richard Fox’ opinion so I am voting no.”

Rogensues pressed Council President Patrick Green repeatedly during the meeting as to why council members did not receive the specific amendments prior to the meeting. Green countered by asking Rogensues if she had any amendments to add and seemed to chide her for not offering any budget changes in the weeks prior to last night’s meeting. When Rogensues asked if Fox had reviewed the budget with the added amendments to make sure it was balanced, Green said that he had not. 

Some of the budget amendments Moore announced included: elimination of the position of executive administrator in the mayor’s office; increasing the line item for postage for the clerk’s office; eliminating the position of diversity coordinator until an inclusion and diversity committee is formed; eliminating an assistant planner position in the planning department; reduction or elimination of several line items for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). 

Papandrea asked prior to the vote if the executive administrator position that was to be eliminated was the position currently held by Amanda Mika. Green said it was not her position but one that had been vacant for several years. Nevertheless, several residents expressed their outrage at the elimination of what they believed to be Mika’s position during audience participation. Treasurer Lorie Barnwell said the position of executive administrator had never been filled since she had been with the city and noted that Mika signs all of her correspondence as executive assistant. 

Mika herself spoke at audience and revealed that her title had changed from executive assistant to executive administrator and that the council had, in fact, eliminated her position as well as her union position with the planning department with the amendment to cut  the assistant planner position. 

“You removed my position and I do not appreciate it,” said Mika.

Council unanimously approved language for a ballot proposal set to appear on the November 2020 ballot asking if the mayor’s term limits should be the same as members of council and other elected city officials. 

“This was a hot item during last year’s campaign,” said Councilman Garry Watts. “A lot of residents were asking why the mayor has different term limits than the rest of us.”

Several residents spoke on this topic during audience participation with opinions divided on the need for such a ballot proposal to amend the city charter. Macomb Community College Trustee Joan Flynn expressed outrage and accused council of attacking Mayor James Fouts. 

Resident Paul Jerzy supports the ballot proposal because he believes the mayor is out of touch with citizens.

“What happened to the Jim Fouts that fought into the wee hours of the morning when he was on council?  We have the mayor that as a councilman you opposed,” said Jerzy. “You have become detached from your residents. I ask you on behalf of the citizens to start listening to new ideas and stop stonewalling progress.” 

An increase in water and sewer rates was approved 6-1 despite the majority of council members saying they were not happy about having to do so. Mandated improvements to the water treatment plant and construction of the long-awaited detention basin are just two things driving up the cost of water in Warren. 

“I was all set to vote no on this but if we don’t raise the water rates we are going to have to raise taxes so I am voting yes,” said Watts. 

“Costs continue to increase and we have to keep up with it,” said Councilman Jonathan Lafferty. “ We have to keep the water treatment plant and all of the facilities up to code and we have to do our job. Unfortunately it will result in an increase but it is a necessary increase. I don’t like it any more than my neighbors do, but there is a cost to doing business.”

There was discussion about the vacancies in the city’s senior housing department. Both the Director of Administration and Director of Operations positions are vacant and several council members indicated they have received calls from residents complaining that housekeeping is not getting done. 

Senior housing clerk Sara Gorgis indicated that the Director of Administration had been fired in March and that the Director of Operations announced in May that he was retiring that month. Council agreed unanimously to let the administration know that filling these positions was top priority.

Audience participation, which still comes at the end of the meeting for special and committee of the whole meetings, saw many residents expressing concern about the Warren Police Department. 

“I did a Freedom of Information request and found out there has been over a million dollars given out in settlements involving police brutality and excessive use of force,” said Macomb County Democratic Black Caucus President and Warren resident Joel Rutherford. “Why haven’t body cams been purchased already? They protect citizens AND police. We need body cams and we need a police review and oversight board so that when there are incidents, they can be reviewed by more than just the administration.”

A resident identifying himself only as “Real World” agreed: “Mr. Joel Rutherford called for removal of police commissioner Bill Dwyer yesterday in a scathing email to council since clearly the commissioner has proven himself complicit in the ongoing brutality and misconduct; conduct which is akin to fleecing each and everyone of the residents of this community due to his arbitrary and capricious lack of judicious discipline resulting in avoidable lawsuits. Therefore I echo Mr. Rutherford and many others sentiments. Without competent leadership -change will be nonexistent. This change needs to begin at the top.”

Resident Vickie Wybo-Yuhase called for an end to fireworks being sold out of temporary tents in the city and asked that council explore the idea of requiring those selling fireworks to be in a brick and mortar building so they are paying taxes to the city. 

Resident Lori Harris expressed concern over a variance approved by the zoning board allowing a warehouse at the old Oak Ridge Market location on Ryan Road. She also called for Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato to plan some events like yoga in the park where residents can socially distance but enjoy the parks.

The next regular Warren City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at 7 p.m. The Zoom link is included on the posted agendas for all city council meetings.

Budget Tabled Again; Council Discusses Term Limits, Diversity Commission

Recap of Warren City Council Meeting June 23, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — The Warren City Council once again delayed approving the fiscal year 2020/2021 budget, tabling the item and promising to hold a special meeting on or before the June 30 deadline to address outstanding issues. 

During a series of budget meetings last month, council had several questions for various department heads, many which are still unanswered. District Five Councilman Eddie Kabacinski was the only member voting not to table the budget. The budget must be approved on or before June 30, 2020 and Council President Patrick Green alluded to a special meeting on that date, although nothing was formally scheduled. The date for the special meeting will be posted on the City of Warren web site at least 18 hours prior to the meeting time.

Council Secretary Mindy Moore presented a resolution calling for the creation of a nine-member Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Commission and a position of Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer; the resolution was approved.

“We recently found out during the budget meetings that our city Diversity Coordinator had left and that he was only working part time when he was here,” said Moore. “We are the third largest city in the state and we need to have a full-time person handling these matters.”

District One Councilman Ronald Papandrea said he was going to vote “no” on the proposal because he would like to see the Diversity Coordinator position filled and perhaps expanded rather than create a second position that might duplicate duties of the coordinator. 

“I would like to give the city a chance to hire a good Diversity Coordinator and see what they come up with,” said Papandrea. 

Councilwoman Angela Rogensues said Moore’s resolution was “moving in the right direction” but cautioned that it will take time to find the right person to fill the officer role. She urged council to be patient in its search and to have a plan to foster diversity while the search is underway. 

City attorney Ethan Vinson sounded off about the proposal during audience participation: “I noticed an item on the agenda to establish an equity committee and create a position for equity officer which is interesting because last meeting you turned down a request just to see how much it would cost to train city employees on diversity. There is already the position of Diversity Coordinator, so are we going to be paying two people to do essentially the same thing?”

Green’s proposed resolution to place a charter amendment on the November 2020 ballot to decrease the number of terms a person may serve in the elected office of mayor from five terms to three terms passed 5-2 with Rogensues and Papandrea voting “no.”

“The goal is to have consistency between council, mayor, treasurer and other elected officials as far as term limits,” said Green. 

Green acknowledged resident concerns regarding revision of the City Charter and their preference for a complete overhaul as opposed to amending items one by one but said the cost of a complete charter revision is cost prohibitive.

“This is the first of many charter revisions to come,” said Green.

Green also said if this revision to the City Charter passes in November, it would not affect the mayor’s current term or cause him to be removed. 

“Our charter has not been updated since 1956 and has had a lot of controversy and contradicts itself,” said Rogensues, who asked that the proposal be tabled to get more resident input. “I am not sure why we would put one charter amendment on the ballot when I think there is an opportunity for us to move forward with a full charter commission.”

Moore said it was important to have this proposal on the November ballot because a large turnout is expected. 

“I think it is the right thing to do to put it back to the people,” said District Four Councilman Garry Watts. “Let’s just try to do the right thing and get the term limits in line.”

A public hearing was held regarding the old Regal Lanes property on Mound Road. Council unanimously approved a Brownfield Plan to clean the site and redevelop it into corporate headquarters and a warehouse for Lecom, Inc,, which is a power line construction company. 

Petitioner representative Nicholas Maloof of Associated Environmental Services said the bowling alley building is to be removed, inducing asbestos abatement, and soil at the site is to be tested and contaminated soil to be removed. 

“The contamination is not from the bowling alley but from the Bear Creek Drain that crosses the property and is contaminated,” said Maloof. 

District Two Councilman Jonathan Lafferty asked that residents in the adjacent neighborhood be notified of cleanup procedures and timeline. Maloof agreed that could be done and said he would work with the city to ensure informative letters were sent to residents. 

During the “resident concerns” portion of the agenda, Moore expressed concern over construction at Bates Park that removed basketball courts and did not replace them. 

Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato indicated that ball diamonds had been removed as well as roller rink areas at Bates and other parks because they were in disrepair. 

“We are just going to put topsoil on it and seed it for now,” said Turcato.

Moore also questioned why the summer issue of the Newsbeat was sent to residents since there are no events scheduled at the Community Center. She said the city could have saved money by not producing and sending the quarterly community magazine.

Lafferty asked for an update on the condition of the 13 Mile railroad intersection that is in disrepair. City Engineer James VanHavermaat said he has not yet contacted railroad officials to see what can be done to make much-needed repairs. Lafferty also inquired about homes slated for demolition as well as a home where he believes an illegal marijuana grow operation is in place.

Watts cited “multiple areas of grass” in need of mowing in various parts of the city. He acknowledged grass on Common Road and on Mound was cut but said it was not properly mowed and is still unsightly. 

“We were told that the city was going to do all of the mowing in house, but now it seems like a company is doing it and they are doing a terrible job,” said Watts.

During audience participation, Warren Public Works Manager Sean Clark reminded Council that he made a recommendation at the May 12 meeting not to rehire Unique Clips, the company that had the city mowing contract previously, because of problems with work quality and issues with overbilling. 

“Obviously their performance is very poor and that is why we made the clear recommendation in May (to go with the second lowest bidder),” said Clark. “We have tried to correct this twice and it was overridden twice by Council.”

Warren Mott valedictorian Hilary Adeleke was honored with a resolution noting her 4.6 grade point average and many school activities including the robotics team, National Honor Society and Stay Woke Club. Adeleke plans to attend Harvard University in the fall to study biology.

Items approved by Council last night include:

  • A request of the Water Division to purchase Neptune Water Meters for a price not to exceed $150,000
  • Request of the Police Department for approval of a proposed resolution authorizing application for 2020 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program (Grant) Solicitation.
  • A request to approve an RFP (request for proposals) for new video, audio and body camera recording system for scout cars and the appointment of Council Vice President Watts to serve on the RFP.
  • The tabling of an item approving the City’s “Public Entity” Property and Casualty Liability Insurance Program, effective July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, and third-party administrator services. This item is expected to be on the same special meeting agenda that will be scheduled to approve the budget. 
  • A recommendation to award membership usage of the Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System (CLEMIS) through the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office.
  • A resolution approving amendments to the 2019/2020 Housing and Community Development Action Plan for CDBG Cares Act Funding.
  • Request for approval of Macomb County Hazard Mitigation Plan. 
  • Resolutions ratifying proposed City of Warren/GELC Local 227 Extension Agreement; proposed City of Warren/GELC Supervisors Union Extension Agreement; proposed City of Warren/UAW Local 412, Unit 59 Extension Agreement; and proposed City of Warren/Warren Police Command Officers Association Extension Agreement. 
  • Request of City Treasurer, Lorie Barnwell to renew current banking contract with Comerica Bank for an additional 2 years. Lafferty recused himself from this vote as he is employed by Comerica Bank.
  • List of towing companies to be used for police towing was approved.
  • Request of the City Attorney to approve the proposed settlement as discussed in closed session on June 17, 2020 in the matter to Zataverson v. City of Warren. Watts and Kabacinski voted no on this item.
  • Councilmember Jonathan Lafferty’s  request for a report showing the political appointment history of the last 20 years. 
  • A resolution ratifying proposed City of Warren/Warren Police Officers Association Extension Agreement. Watts said he was voting for this even though he is opposed to the one-year hiring freeze outlined in the agreement. The Warren Police Department currently has 15 vacant positions they do not expect to fill until July 1 of 2021 because of the hiring freeze. 

The next regular meeting of the Warren City Council is scheduled for July 14, 2020. Residents can log into the Zoom meeting via the link provided in the posted agenda for that meeting https://www.cityofwarren.org/government/city-council/

Council Tables City Budget; Police Issues Concern Residents

Warren City Council Recap June 9, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — Concerns regarding police funding and bias training dominated comments during the audience participation section of last night’s Warren City Council meeting. With almost 40 percent of the proposed city budget slated for the police department, residents had strong opinions on how those dollars should be spent. 

Resident Laurie Artz was one of many to decry the lack of body cameras.

“It is ridiculous in this day and age that Warren police officers do not have body cams,” said Artz. “There is no line item in the budget to pay for this which means body cams are not really in the plans.” Artz also expressed concern about funds slated for the hiring of new officers being funneled to the general fund instead of being used to hire more officers and expand community policing efforts. 

Resident David Metzler echoed her concerns about body cameras and said police brutality cases should receive closer scrutiny. 

“There have been many race-related lawsuits involving Warren police,” said Metzler. “The police need to have body cams and if police are put on leave because of a violent incident, they should not receive pay. They should be on leave without pay.” Metzler also called for the resignation of Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer.

Bridget Quinn and Lauren Schandevel said they would like to see budget cuts to police and an increase in spending for social programs.

“No one is calling to completely defund Warren PD, but it is almost 40 percent of the budget,” said Schandevel. “Could that money be used for parks or to help the homeless? Could some of that money be used for body cams, bias training or PAL programs?”

“The police budget has risen steadily and so has crime,” said Quinn. “Rather than hiring more strangers with guns who most likely do not live in the neighborhood, why not really examine what defunding would look like and see how it could really help the residents.” She called for the addition of educational programs, a food security task force and mental health services for residents. 

Resident Pete Sutliff voiced support for bias training for police as well as for other city workers. 

“I am glad to see a discussion about bias training on tonight’s agenda,” said Sutliff. “Warren police need training on how to de-escalate a situation which is very important for any police department.” Sutliff said the cost of multiple lawsuits far outweighs the cost of bias training. 

Council approved a resolution supporting Michigan Senate Bill No. 945 requiring implicit bias training for police. Senator Paul Wojno joined the meeting to talk about the bill, which he supports. District 5 councilman Eddie Kabacinski voted against supporting the bill calling it “the result of pressure by fringe groups.” He was the only councilperson to vote against support. 

A resolution introduced by Councilwoman Angela Rogensues asking for the administration to research the cost of anti-bias training for all elected officials, police and fire departments, property maintenance employees and workers in the clerk’s office and treasurer’s office was defeated 4-3. Councilpersons Jonathan Lafferty, Garry Watts, Mindy Moore and Kabacinski voted against the measure. 

“This anti-bias training would help to ensure everyone including blight inspectors, police and other city employees are aware of their own bias’,” said Rogensues. 

In a heated response to the proposal, Lafferty called it a “token resolution” on the part of a racist mayor and said he would not be part of any “empty resolution that paints the mayor as being in favor of diversity.”

Rogensues bristled at the accusation that her proposal was insincere. 

“I have worked in corrections and on behalf of children and people of color for the past 15 years,” said Rogensues. “This is my authentic attempt to do what I’ve been doing for 15 years and advocate for people of color.”

Moore invited city treasurer Lorrie Barnwell to talk about anti-bias training. Barnwell said she recognizes that all people have various bias’ — sexual orientation, racial, economic, etc. — and supports the idea of anti-bias training. She suggested calling all department heads to a meeting with the city council to talk about the proposal  and “find real solutions.” 

“I have worked in this city for more than 30 years,” said District 1 councilman Ronald Papandrea. “Whatever diversity training we have had so far is not working. All Angela is asking is to price this out and see if we can do it. We all need it; even the city council should have it.” 

Watts said he is not against anti-bias training but believes more input is needed from various department heads before a solid resolution can be made. 

Because they are still waiting for detailed information from various departments, the council did not approve the new city budget last night. They tabled the item with Moore and Council President Patrck Green voting not to table. Controller RIchard Fox indicated that he had submitted the information council was seeking earlier yesterday; council expects to spend the next two weeks studying the information and intends to vote on the budget at the next council meeting. 

The Kutchey Family Market was honored with a special resolution recognizing its presence in the city since the 1830s.

The new “resident and neighborhood concerns” portion of the agenda saw council secretary Moore asking for information about guidelines for outdoor retail sales in the city and Kabacinski giving a long list of addresses with tall grass or overgrown foliage that had not been addressed by blight enforcement. 

Lafferty asked for the removal of maple trees he believes were inappropriately planted on Cousino Drive and asked for the city’s rental division to address issues at 4917 Stanley. Lafferty said the home is a “weekend party house” with no owner actually living in the home. Councilwoman Rogensues voiced several resident concerns about Republic Street in the area bordering the new logistics company being constructed on the old Holley Carburetor site. District 4 councilman Watts expressed concern over the condition of the parks and specifically Eckstein Park. 

Last night’s city council actions include:

  • Bid awarded to M&K Truck Center for truck brake parts for one  year with the option to renew for three years. Annual amount is not to exceed $85,183.
  • Denial of resolution to provide public notice to sell tax-reverted property at 6748 Lozier and 6144 Ten Mile Road. 
  • Denial of amending Chapter 41 Article IV of the Code of Ordinances relating to water and sewer rates.
  • Unanimous approval of requests from the Public Works department and police and fire departments to allow Crest Ford to supply car parts and repairs for police vehicles for an amount not to exceed $150,000 and to allow Cummins Sale and Service fire vehicles for an amount not to exceed $75,000. The contract to Cummins was an increase from $50,000 due to unforeseen major repairs to the R4 heavy rescue reserve fire engine.
  • Approval of the engineering department’s request to award the repaving contract for Girard Street to Zuniga Cement. While city engineer James VanHavermaat was answering questions about Girard Street, the council pressed him about the condition of Chicago Road at the railroad tracks and in front of the fire station. VanHavermaat indicated the railroad company was responsible for fixing the pavement at the railroad tracks and despite repeated attempts to communicate with them, he had not received a response. Regular pavement repairs are slated for summer of 2021.
  • The tabling of a request from the water department to approve purchase of Neptune Water Meters. 
  • Approval of a request from Human Resources Director George Dimas to increase the award for advertising to Michigan.com from $20,000 to $35,000.

Other items addressed by audience members included:

  • Concern that the amount of marijuana dispensaries allowed in the City of Warren will increase from 15 to 30 due to a recent settlement of lawsuits filed against the city’s mairjuana review committee. 
  • Asking that the city consider including a minority-owned dispensary when issuing licences. 
  • The condition of Warren parks and in particular, parks located in the southeast area of the city. Resident Paul Jerzy called for the removal of Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato.
  • Chiding the city for not maintaining the grass on city-owned property but including a reminder to maintain personal property in the recent water bill. 
  • Calling for more diversity in the Warren Police Department. 
  • Concern that the Parks and Recreation department was awarded $3.6 million last  year and has still not submitted a detailed plan showing how that money will be spent. 

The next Warren City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 23 at 7 p.m. Links to attend the meeting via Zoom are included in the agenda posted here: https://www.cityofwarren.org/government/city-council/

Fire Concerns Dominate Council Meeting

Warren City Council Meeting Recap May 26, 2020

By Susan Smiley

Several issues involving fire, firefighters and firehouses were discussed at last night’s Warren City Council meeting. 

First, Council Secretary Mindy Moore set the record straight during announcements regarding the proposed fire-pit ordinance. 

“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating,” said Moore, explaining that the proposal council submitted was one written by fire marshalls from Southeast Michigan and is very simple but provides safe guidelines for barbeque grills, fire pits and chimineas. “There are not going to be any huge bonfires allowed, burning garbage will not be allowed. We are just looking for a simple ordinance that reflects what the firefighters came up with.”

Moore said she did receive something back from the city’s legal department with regard to the proposed ordinance but it was difficult to understand and not in accordance with what had been proposed. She reminded residents that no ordinance has been passed allowing fire pits yet. Everything is still pending as the council waits for the final ordinance to be written. 

District 4 councilman Garry Watts pressed city controller Richard Fox for an update on the hiring of firefighters. Fox reported that an ad had been placed in the newspaper last week and a meeting is planned between Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams, Human Resources Director George Dimas and representatives from the firefighters union to plan for recruitment from union ranks and a timeline for hiring. 

Requests from the fire department to approve funding for a new roof on fire station number four and renovations to the kitchens and kitchenettes at all of the fire stations were approved unanimously. Originally, fire station number one had been left off of the request for kitchen improvements. McAdams said there were plans for the Downtown Development Authority to fund construction of a new firehouse so they were not going to ask for any improvements to fire station number one. A long discussion ensued regarding the feasibility of improving the existing firehouse versus building a brand new structure. At the urging of Watts and District 5 Councilman Eddie Kabacinski, fire station number one was added to the list of facilities warranting kitchen upgrades.

McAdams said the roof on station four was the only one not to be replaced in recent years and that the station is the second largest in the city. Cost of the new roof is not to exceed $139,700.

Cost of kitchen renovations is not to exceed $429,108 and will also include the fire administration building. 

“I was shocked at what some of the kitchens looked like,” said Watts, who also supported the idea of building a new firehouse to replace station one. “Station one is the oldest station in the city; two, three and four have all been replaced even though they were newer. In 1991 funding was approved for a new firehouse and many years later it has not been done.”

District 2 councilman Jonathan Lafferty objected to the Downtown Development Authority using TIFA (Tax Increment Financing Authority) funds to build a new fire station without consulting with council. 

“No one asked the council about this,” said Lafferty. “I have serious doubts about the DDA building a fire station when it should be allocating the money where we determine it should be allocated.”

McAdams estimated that it would take between 18 and 24 months to build a new fire station at a cost around $5 million. 

The only public hearing item at last night’s meeting was with regard to the Fiscal Year 2020/2021 Budget. Budget hearings were held in a series of four Committee of the Whole meetings earlier this month during which council asked for additional information from several departments and an assessment of how Covid-19 will affect city funds in that fiscal year. Fox indicated he was working on that report and would have it to council before the next meeting. Council voted unanimously to receive and file  the proposed budget and vote on approval at a later date. No residents spoke at the public hearing. 

Council voted unanimously to request information from several departments as was discussed during the budget hearings. Lafferty indicated he would like to know how much of the $3.6 million appropriated to the Parks and Recreation department last year has not been spent and how much it would cost to institute a recycling program in all Warren parks. Lafferty would like to see recycling bins at all parks and asked for a report on the cost of the bins and collection of the recyclables.

Last night’s meeting marked the first for the “resident and neighborhood concerns” section of the agenda which was listed as an item under “pending matters.” This allows council persons to discuss issues brought directly to them by residents and determine how to best solve the issue or communicate information to the proper city department. 

Lafferty indicated he did receive the bills he requested from the DDA several weeks ago and requested more detailed information (receipts, invoices and contracts) for any interactions with Broadcast Selections marketing firm.

Included in the discussion were:

  • Commercial property at 22522 Hoover that is in disrepair and has an expired demolition permit.
  • Illegal fence at 13155 Prospect.
  • Illegal structures at 25717 Marilyn.
  • Blight at 8211Cadillac.
  • Concerns that trash and recyclables are being combined in the same truck.
  • An abandoned fiber optic project on Masonic that damaged lawns and sprinkler systems at several residential homes. 
  • Blight at 2508 Otter and 32450 Wexford.
  • Concerns about when and how City Hall will reopen. 

A 60-day extension of the recreational marijuana moratorium and the police towing list were both approved unanimously, 

An item that would amend the Code of Ordinances to strengthen ADA standards was removed from the agenda because the council has not received proper submission of the new ordinance. The amendment would strengthen the rules for handicapped parking and accessibility and would provide a timeline for businesses to comply. This item will appear on the agenda once the amended ordinance is submitted to council from the legal department.

Council overrode three mayoral vetoes thus allowing for the following: 

  • Amendment of council budget to allow for hiring of special counsel.
  • Hiring of special counsel to represent city council. 
  • Granting of a one-year contract to Unique Clips for city mowing.

Several council members spoke on the desire to bring all city mowing “in house” which Public Service Director Gus Ghanam indicated was doable. 

“The majority of council would like to see this come in house with union labor but it is going to  take awhile to accomplish that,” said District 1 councilman Ronald Papandrea. “You can’t just do it overnight. That is why we voted to have a one year contract to give the city time to make these arrangements.”

Lafferty brought up concerns from residents who say they are receiving unsolicited text messages from the city. Council voted unanimously to check the city’s policy regarding text messaging to ensure it is in compliance with FCC regulations. 

“The question is: what is proper communication and what is campaigning?” said Council President Patrick Green.

A motion to deny the sale of tax-reverted property at 11319 Dodge was passed 6-1 with Green being the dissenter. The motion to deny the request was made by Watts and supported by Moore.

“I went down and looked at this property a couple of times in the last couple of weeks,” said Watts. “The city wants to sell to a landlord who has multiple homes in the city and the history on some of those homes owned by the landlord listed have past due taxes. I do not think we should be selling property for one dollar to a landlord who is making money. Perhaps we should look at establishing a land bank where we can look at developing some of this property.”

The influx of requests for absentee ballots propted City Clerk Sonja Buffa to request the purchase of two absentee ballot tabulators. Warren currently uses two machines but Buffa says the sharp increase in absentee requests dictates the need for additional machines in order to count the ballots efficiently. Buffa said there are over 28,000 residents on the permanent absentee list and she expects that number to rise to 30,000 for the August primary and 40,000 for the November election. 

The clerk’s office also requested the purchase of printed ballots, precinct supply kits and other election related materials for a five-year period in an amount not to exceed $60,000 per election. 

Both requests were approved.

Other items approved by council include:

  • Amending Chapter 41, Article IV of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Warren relating to Water and Sewer Rates and Charges. 
  • Request of the Police Department to purchase police camera maintenance services and database access for License Plate Readers; SOL-W-0262 through Vigilant Solutions, LLC., in the amount of $38,785.00. 
  • Request of the Public Service Director and the City Engineer to waive the bid process and award the purchase of Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), Small Government Enterprise Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Software, Maintenance, and Training Services; SOL-W-0258 from Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc., in the total amount of $544,000.00 over a three (3) year period. 
  • Request of the Water Division, Clerk’s Office, Treasurer’s Office, and Controller’s Office to waive the bidding procedure, authorize one (1) year of software maintenance, and support services to BS&A Software, in an annual amount of $94,953.00. 
  • Request of the Water Division to award bid ITB-W-0237 for furnishing Copper Water Supply Parts for a one (1) year period, with the option to renew for one (1) additional year, be awarded to Ferguson Waterworks, in the annual amount not to exceed $54,577.29. 
  • Request of the Water Division to award bid ITB-W-0227 to furnish Water and Sewer Supply Parts for a one (1) year period with the option to extend for one (1) additional year to Core & Main LP, in the annual amount not to exceed $55,775.30.
  • Amendment to 2019-202 Housing and Community Development Action Plan & 2016-2020 Consolidated Plan for HOPWA Cares Act Funding & Amendments to Citizen Participation Plan. 
  • Extension of Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines until June 19,2020.

Members of the audience expressed concern about food distribution to those in need during the Covid-19 crisis and asked for the city council and the administration to do more to increase awareness of where people can get food and in distribution to residents. 

Several residents also called for an interactive Warren City Council Facebook page. Currently the City Council Facebook page is for announcements only and does not allow comments to be made on any of its posts. 

Macomb County Black Caucus President Joel Rutherford expressed concern over raising rental license fees for landlords.

“Those additional costs will be pushed onto the renters,” said Rutherford. “Enforce the rules already on the books.”

Resident Tina Mills, who lives on Republic across from the new logistics company that is being constructed at 9 Mile and Hoover, accused the council of destroying her neighborhood by allowing construction variances, improper trash containment and improperly routed traffic.

“Councilwoman Angela Rogensues has been down here to see but no one one seems to be bothering about what is going on in my neighborhood,” said Mills. “You guys passed this and you are not the ones living with it.”

The next Warren City Council meeting is scheduled for June 9, 2020 at 7 p.m. Information about how to log onto the Zoom meeting is listed on the agenda posted here: https://www.cityofwarren.org/government/city-council/

Firefighter Shortage, City Mowing Contract Top Council Agenda

Warren City Council Meeting Recap, May 12, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — The shortage of firefighters in the City of Warren was a topic of discussion at last night’s Warren City Council meeting which lasted for four hours and 50 minutes. District 4 councilman Garry Watts asked for a detailed plan for hiring new firefighters to fill the 17 vacant positions in the department.

“We have 30 less firefighters than we had in 2009 and our firefighters are doing a whole lot more than they did then and I think that is very dangerous,” said Watts. 

Watts also expressed concern about the state of the firehouse located at 8321 9 Mile Road. 

“In 1991, money was set aside for a new fire hall there and it never happened,” said Watts. “The guys are living in the oldest firehouse in the city; it is a disgrace.”

District 2 councilman Jonathan Lafferty echoed his concerns calling conditions at the 9 Mile firehouse “deplorable.”

Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams said that the delay in hiring much-needed firefighters is related to contract issues not being settled until late fall of 2019 and complications caused by the Covid-19 virus. McAdams said prior to the new contract, Warren had a difficult time attracting firefighters because the Tier 2 payscale in Warren was very low compared to other cities. The new contract raised Warren’s Tier 2 firefighter salaries to make them comparable to other departments.

“We have a pool of applicants that have expressed interest in applying that currently work for other departments,” said McAdams. In addition to recruiting firefighters from other cities through the firefighters union, McAdams is also in the process of approving an ad to recruit new applicants from the general public. “We are using a two-prong approach.”

Watts also called on the Downtown Development Authority to help bolster the fire department. 

City of Warren Controller Richard Fox said DDA funds can only be used for capital improvement projects and thus, could not be used to pay firefighter salaries. Fox said the DDA could contribute to renovating or rebuilding the 9 Mile firehouse. He cautioned that fallout from Covid-19 could limit the amount the DDA is able to contribute to that project. 

“Before the Covid-19 struck, we were paying more than one fire millage and paying our property taxes, but the city keeps cutting those services; it is just not right,” said Watts. 

Fox insisted that Mayor James Fouts is committed to the police and fire departments and is doing everything he can to support them. 

“I’m just saying, when you guys are thinking of the overall budget, remember the Covid-19 is going to affect that,” said Fox. 

“In 2009 Warren had 148 firefighters and now we have 115 and the call volume is double,” said Watts. The councilman asked for an update from McAdams at the next council meeting regarding where things stand with the hiring process and specifically, placement of the advertisement for new firefighters. His request was supported unanimously by Council.

The awarding of the city mowing contract for this year prompted a long discussion regarding differences between the lowest and second-lowest bidders for the contract and the possibility of bringing these services back in house. 

The Department of Public Works proposed hiring Mow On The Go instead of renewing the contract with low bidder Unique Clips as the difference between the two bids was just $338.16.

Unique Clips owner James Sape said he fully expected to have Warren’s mowing contract again this year as he felt his company had done a good job for the city in the past. 

Public Works Superintendent Dale Walker expressed concern about Unique Clips having enough staff to handle Warren’s workload.

“In the past, they have had trouble getting workers over the border,” said Walker. “Mow On The Go is completely local so there should not be any staffing issues. They are ready to start mowing for us tomorrow.”

Sape said his staff is in place for this year because he knew there would be issues with Covid-19 border closings and opted to hire local workers in 2020. 

Public Works Manager Sean Clark cited problems with overbilling by Unique Clips as a reason to award the new contract to Mow On The Go. He said that amount was “in the area of $137,000.”

Sape said his company was asked to perform additional services not listed in the original contract and that is what caused the cost overrun. One example was being asked to mow certain areas weekly instead of bi-weekly. Sape said the contract was not adjusted but that his company was asked to perform additional services via email from Public Works or Purchasing departments. 

“Here is my problem with this; why are we getting a bid for this in May instead of in November or December?” said Watts. “With all due respect, the city used to do its own mowing. We had all of our own people cutting the grass. We have to take this back into our own hands. I drove down Schoenherr today and it looks terrible. Fire hydrants are being covered up. Is that safe? I don’t think so.”

Watts proposed awarding a one-year contract and working with DPW to explore ways to bring mowing back in house for 2021.

“Our backs are up against the wall with this because things are not getting done,” said Council Secretary Mindy Moore. 

Walker assured Council that he has a foreman in place to check on the work of contractors and ensure that everything is being properly mowed and maintained. 

A motion to award a one-year contract to Unique Clips and re-bid the contract in November of 2020 passed 6-1 with District 5 Councilman Eddie Kabacinski the lone dissenter. 

The ongoing issue of poorly maintained rental properties was discussed after Councilwoman Angela Rogensues said she had been contacted by residents about an abandoned and boarded up home at 12996 Sadonie. 

“The resident who called me told me this property is uninhabitable,” said Rogensues.

Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Green and Watts both said they had checked the background on this property and found the owner owed back taxes on the Sadonie house as well as other properties he owns in Warren. There was also confusion as to the address of the owner because the current address is listed as a P.O. Box.

“When you look at the dates on all of this, the non-payment of taxes has been going on for a long time,” said Watts. “We are not doing enough to fix this problem.”

“Someone doesn’t pay the taxes and just waits for the county to take it back,” said Green. “We have tried to fix this situation over the years and have gotten nothing. When someone registers a rental, there has to be a responsible owner. Has rental ever looked at this? Why isn’t this stuff being done in the property division?”

Council unanimously approved a resolution to alert the administration that this property needs to be cleaned up or torn down and that taxes must be collected. 

Recent rulings by the Michigan Supreme Court and changes to zoning guidelines for marijuana businesses have led to a revamp of Warren’s mairjuana ordinance to bring it current with state law. Council expects to have the re-written ordinance from the city attorney’s office in the near future, at which time it will go to the Planning Commission due to all of the zoning guidelines included. 

“We are trying to figure out a way to have the ZBA start hearing cases again,” said Moore. 

Two Parks and Recreation items tabled at the previous city council meeting passed unanimously last night. 

  • Request  to furnish and install a play structure at Busse City Park utilizing the Sourcewell Cooperative Contract #030117-LTS, in the amount of $88,421.00. 
  • Request to furnish and install a play structure at Miller Park utilizing the Sourcewell Cooperative Contract #030117-LTS, in the amount of $86,271.00. 

Although he voted in favor of both measures, Lafferty still had questions for Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato.

“As much as any council member up here, I want to improve the quality of the parks,” said Lafferty. “The plan you called for has 7.1 million dollars of renovations over the next five years. How do (these two renovations) tie in to the overall plan? That is what I am asking to see.”

Lafferty also expressed the need to ensure spending is applied to the city in a fair and equitable way, i.e. that there is equal spending to renovate parks in the north and south areas of the city,

The following items that were tabled at the April 28 city council meeting remained tabled:

  • Amendment of Chapter 9 of the Code of Ordinances to address accessibility standards and maintenance of Accessibility Facilities. (First Reading)
  • Proposed resolution to provide public notice of intent to sell tax reverted property at 6748 Lozier, Warren, Parcel ID No. 13-28-452-003; and 6144 Ten Mile Road, Warren, Parcel ID No. 13-28-101-010; Approving sale after 30-day notice period; and accepting grant of easement rights for public utilities. 
  • Proposed resolution providing public notice of intent to sell tax-reverted property at 21463 Ryan, Warren, Michigan; Parcel ID No. 13-33-426-029 for $6,500.00, and approving sale following 30-day notice period, and accepting grant of easement rights. 

The final item on last night’s agenda was tabled because no one was present from the administration to answer questions regarding the tax-reverted property in question:

  • Proposed resolution providing public notice of intent to sell vacant tax-reverted property at 11319 Dodge, Warren, Michigan, subject to combination with 11307 Dodge; Approving sale following 30-day notice period; and accepting grant of easement rights.

Warren City Council passed three resolutions unanimously:

  • Naming May 10 through May 16 as Police Week to honor and appreciate police officers in the city.
  • Special recognition of Cromie Elementary School for being a top school in the Macomb County Green Schools program. 
  • Declaring the first Friday in June to be National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The following items were approved by Warren City Council:

  • An override of the mayor’s veto of a resolution to amend Chapter 2 of the Warren Code of Ordinances relating to purchasing. This passed 5-2 with Rogensues and Kabacinski voting “no.”
  •  Amend the Council Rules of Procedure Section 2.1 to add item 6b to the Council Agenda-Council Discussion of resident/neighborhood concerns. This will give council members a chance to discuss issues about which residents have contacted them.
  • Extension of the State of Emergency through May 28 to remain in keeping with the governor’s guidelines. 
  • Approval of  the 2020-2021 Housing and Community Development Action Plan Application for 2020-2021 CDBG, HOME and HOPWA Funds. 
  • Request of the Department of Public Works to waive the bid process and authorize the purchase of American Emergency Vehicles parts to Rolland Specialty Vehicles and Products for a three (3) year period, in an annual amount not to exceed $20,000.00. 
  • Request of the Department of Public Works to waive the bid process and authorize the purchase of International Truck Parts and Repair Services to Tri-County International Trucks, Inc., for a three-year period, in an annual amount not to exceed $25,000.00.
  • Request of the Department of Public Works to waive the bid process and authorize the purchase of Vactor Sewer Cleaning Equipment Parts and Repairs to Jack Doheny Supplies, Inc., for a three (3) year period, in an annual amount not to exceed $30,000.00. This passed 6-1 with Lafferty voting “no.”
  • Request of the Department of Public Works to award the purchase of Rock Salt for a one-year period, through a cooperative purchasing effort with the City of Farmington Hills, to The Detroit Salt Company, in an amount not to exceed $630,630.00. 
  •  Approval of a cost sharing agreement with the Macomb County Department of Roads for rehabilitation of 10 Mile Road from Dequindre Road to Ryan Road.
  • Proposed resolution providing public notice of intent to sell vacant, tax reverted properties on Linderman, Warren, Michigan; Parcel ID Nos. 13-03-107-031 and 13-03-107-032 for $1.00 each, subject to combination with Parcel ID 13-03-107-033; Approving sale following 30-day notice period; and accepting grant of easement rights.

The next meeting of the Warren City Council is scheduled for May 26, 2020 at 7 p.m. The link to the Zoom meeting will be listed on the agenda posted on the City of Warren website. Also scheduled this month are city council committee of the whole meetings regarding the proposed budget on Wednesday, May 13, 6 p.m.; Saturday, May 16, 8 a.m.; Monday, May 18, 6 p.m. Zoom links to these meetings are included on the individual agendas. 

Council Overrides Vetoes; Parks & Rec Requests Tabled

Warren City Council Meeting Recap April 28, 2020

By Susan Smiley

WARREN — Warren City Council last night voted to override two mayoral vetoes of resolutions calling for the creation of a Legal Affairs Standing Committee and declaration that the office of city attorney is vacant, authorizing the city council to hire its own legal counsel. 

Council voted unanimously to override the veto regarding creation of the Legal Affairs Standing Committee; Councilwoman Angela Rogensues was the lone dissenter on the second matter. 

Council Secretary Mindy Moore read the entire, lengthy resolution calling for city council to hire its own legal counsel. The resolution listed several reasons the council believes this action is necessary and other councilpersons chimed in with examples of what they cite as an unwillingness or inability of City Attorney Ethan Vinson to provide council with information they have repeatedly requested. A list of outside counsel that has been hired to represent the city in various lawsuits and a draft of a city social media policy were just two of the things Moore cited in her resolution that have been requested from the city attorney and not provided. 

“We have asked numerous times for things we have never received,” said District 4 Councilman Garry Watts. “I’ve been attending Warren city council meetings since 1977 and I have to say, I’ve never heard ‘I don’t know’ so many times (from a city attorney).”

Also discussed was the recent ruling by Judge Carl Marlinga regarding Warren’s Marijuana Review Committee, of which VInson was a member. Marlinga ruled the committee held 16 meetings in violation of the Open Meetings Act and thus, all medical marijuana licenses issued must be revoked. Moore said the council was not informed of the ruling by Vinson but heard about it via the media. 

“Ethan VInson was a member of the Marijuana Review Committee and never advised against having the secret meetings,” said Moore. Moore also cited a case that went to the Michigan Supreme Court last year regarding term limits for Warren City Council. Some members of the previous council sought to run again despite having reached the limit of their terms. “The term limits were upheld by the Supreme Court and Mr. Vinson argued in favor of the exception.”

District 1 Councilman Ron Papandrea said while he does not believe council has the power to declare the city attorney’s office vacant, he does support the idea of having separate representation for city council. 

“I support the essential part of the resolution; we have the right to have legal advice we have confidence in,” said Papandrea. “I do not believe there is a vacancy in the office, but I believe in the rest of this resolution.”

Many residents spoke about the proposed resolution during the almost two-hour audience participation segment of the meeting. The majority chided city council members for trying to hire outside counsel and said they thought VInson was doing a good job as city attorney. But other residents said the recent ruling by Marlinga and Vinson’s involvement with the Marijuana Review Committee casts a negative light on the city and  some went as far to call for Vinson’s resignation.

“I do understand why you are getting separate counsel,” said resident Joel Rutherford. “I’ve talked to Mr. Vinson and he is a very nice guy, but what happened with the marijuana situation not being handled properly reflects badly on the city. He was advising the council and the committee at that time and his actions are costing the city a lot of money.”

Vinson himself spoke during audience participation saying that he did not believe council had the power to declare his office vacant. 

Members of council said the resolution was not meant to be a personal attack on Vinson but a matter of maintaining checks and balances within city government. 

“We have the obligation to make sure we are charting the right path for our city,” said District 2 Councilperson Jonathan Lafferty. “I respect all of the people who came and spoke (during audience participation)  tonight but unfortunately, they were lied to. It is time for people to question this administration. It is time for the people to act. Our job is to provide checks and balances, not to be a rubber stamp.” 

A request from Warren City Treasurer Lorie Barnwell to waive late fees on summer taxes for those severely affected by Covid-19 was approved unanimously. The waiver would be available to residents who lost their job due to Covid-19 and were also denied unemployment benefits. 

“We want to make sure we are there for residents who are in dire straits because of Covid-19, but we also need to protect the revenue of the city,” said Barnwell. “I don’t believe we should waive late fees for all residents, but for residents in this specific situation, $40 or $50 would mean a lot.”

Residents would have to provide paperwork proving they were denied for unemployment benefits in order to receive the waiver. 

A request by Lafferty to request the list of bills of the Downtown Development Authority for the past six months was approved unanimously. 

The same request had been made by Kelly Colegio of the previous city council in October of 2019 and was never fulfilled. Lafferty, Moore, Watts and District 5 Councilman Eddie Kabacinski all said they have received numerous phone calls from residents expressing concern about City of Warren commercials appearing on prime time television and featuring Mayor James Fouts. At a previous meeting, city controller and DDA treasurer Richard Fox revealed the DDA funded those advertisements which were dubbed “lavish” by Warren City Council.

Lafferty expressed concern over the lack of oversight of DDA spending and questioned if it was using the proper bid process when funding things such as the new pool slide at the Warren Community Center. He called the lack of oversight “disturbing and convenient” and questioned why the DDA is not required to provide bi-weekly accounts of spending as is required from other departments, commissions and committees. 

“It makes me wonder if the DDA is being used as a slush fund to pay for political ads,” said Lafferty. 

When asked to define the role of the DDA, Fox said it was to make improvements to public areas in the city in a district spanning from 8 Mile to 14 Mile and encompassing the Warren Community Center. 

“As treasurer of the DDA, do you believe prime time campaign ads are part of that purpose the DDA was created for?” asked Lafferty. 

Moore said that money would have been better spent to promote the 2020 Census, which she said is related to the money a city receives for commercial development, and Watts said he would have rather the money spent on television ads be spent on filling the 17 vacant firefighter positions in the city and improving or replacing the badly outdated firehouse. Papandrea said he did not see the television commercials as a misuse of funds and believes the mayor is “an effective spokesperson for the city.”

Council President Patrick Green and Watts are liaisons to the DDA but are not voting members. 

Requests from the Parks and Recreation department to install play structures at Busse and Miller parks were tabled pending the submission of a five-year plan for all of the Warren parks from Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato. Green was the only council member to vote “no” to table the items. Lafferty said the council asked Turcato for a five-year plan several months ago and never received it; he said it is important to understand how each individual expenditure fits into the overall plan. 

The long-awaited ADA ordinance, the result of grass-roots organization by resident Tony Baker, was on last night’s agenda for a first read, but council voted 6-1 to table the item because council believed items that were essential to the ordinance were missing. 

Council had requested that the ordinance include a five-year plan for businesses to become compliant and provisions for regular inspections of businesses by a certified zoning inspector. 

Members of council expressed that they not only wanted to establish a strong ADA ordinance, but a way to enforce it as well. Baker spoke during audience participation and said he has been fighting for this ordinance for more than two years. The proposed ordinance addresses handicapped parking as well as other accessibility issues. 

There were four items regarding tax-reverted properties on last night’s agenda. Two were approved unanimously:

  • The sale of property at 8441 Prospect for $1. 
  • The sale of property at 7519 Orchard for $1 to Homes for Heroic Veterans Foundation to renovate and sell to a veteran. 

The other two items were tabled pending discussion with City of Warren Director of Development Tom Bommarito:

  • Sale of properties at 6748 Lozier and 6144 Ten Mile Road. 
  • Sale of commercial property at 21463 Ryan Road for $6,500.

Watts questioned the $6,500 sale price for the property on Ryan, which he believes is worth significantly more according to his own research. 

“I would like to ask Mr. Bommarito why we are selling something at a price below market value,” said Watts. 

Green said his research revealed the party wishing to purchase the property owes back taxes to the city on other properties which would prohibit them purchasing the Ryan property regardless of the price. 

Although there was no agenda item regarding the proposed ordinance to allow backyard fire pits and chimineas, it continued to be a hot topic during audience participation last night. The majority of residents who spoke expressed concern over safety issues and health issues related to smoke from such fires. 

“If you are having open burning in the back yard and it is a windy day and ashes drop on someone’s roof, that is dangerous,” said resident Jerry T. Bell. “That could start a fire. So I do not think open brining is a good idea.”

Other residents spoke in favor of allowing small fires in proper receptacles. 

“Sitting around the fire is a great way to spend time with your family and when done responsibly, it is a great thing,” said resident Gary Skop.

Watts attempted to clear up confusion regarding the proposed ordinance stating that council did not approve any open burning policy but asked for an ordinance to be written allowing fire pits within certain guidelines. The ordinance is not meant to allow large bonfires or the burning of garbage. 

“The mayor said we are going to allow burning garbage which is against the law in Michigan and nothing is further from the truth,” said Watts, referring to a Facebook post by Mayor James Fouts that spoke against the proposed ordinance and expressed concern over residents burning garbage or other toxic substances and used the term “bonfire” to describe fire pit and chiminea fires. “I would expect better from our mayor. I just wish he would be careful what he is posting. Don’t post incorrect information; residents deserve better.”

Other items approved by council include:

  • A request of the administration to add delinquent water charges to the 2020 tax fees.
  • A request of the engineering division to award a bid and approve contract for Racine Ave. water main and pavement replacement to Zuniga Cement Construction Inc. for $630,429.
  • A request of the engineering division to approve a contract modification and final payment for Common Road Pavement Rehabilitation to Pro Line Asphalt Paving Corporation for a decrease in funding of $1107.

The next meeting of the Warren City Council is scheduled for May 12, 7 p.m. The agenda, e-packet and link to join via Zoom or via phone are posted on the City of Warren Website. https://www.cityofwarren.org/government/city-council/