Warren City Council refuses to pay nearly $5 million in city bills over conflict with administration

Council says it won’t pay city bills until certain legal services are paid by city admins, who refuse

$100 U.S. bills (File photo - Pexels)

WARREN, Mich. – The Warren City Council is refusing to pay nearly $5 million in city bills because the administration won’t pay for legal services that Mayor Jim Fouts says the council sought “illegally” earlier this year.

Fouts issued a press release on Thursday, Dec. 10 to call out the Warren City Council for its refusal to pay nearly $5 million to vendors that provided “essential” services to the community. The council voted on Dec. 8 not to pay city bills until the city paid a legal firm that was hired by the council in May.

“This is a routine responsibility exercised at every meeting of the city council to ensure that vendors are paid for services rendered to the community,” the press release reads. “The only reason given by the council for not paying the city’s bills was the fact that the administration has refused to pay the Plunkett Cooney law firm for a contract that the administration believes was entered into in violation of the Warren City Charter and Warren purchasing ordinance.”

The Warren City Council reportedly retained Plunkett Cooney earlier this year to replace its previous attorney of record following significant legal battles in recent years regarding medical marijuana in the city.

Warren City Attorney Ethan Vinson argues that the city council “exceeded the scope” of its authority when securing an attorney from Plunkett Cooney on May 12. He says the firm was “not engaged in the manner prescribed by the City of Warren ordinances or charter,” and therefore won’t be paid by the city for their services to the council.

Fouts says that the council’s refusal to pay vendors that are under contract with the city will have a negative impact on local businesses amid the pandemic and the holidays. Though more detailed information was not provided about specific vendors, Fouts’ press release says that the council’s decision places the “delivery of essential services in jeopardy.”

The Warren City Council issued the following statement in response to Fouts’ press release Thursday.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts refuses to pay bills the city is obligated to pay, which is not surprising as this is just another in a series of abuses of power by the mayor. Several law firms have not been paid by the Mayor, not just the law firm hired by city council. The Mayor is defending several lawsuits, including large dollar discrimination cases, where his bizarre and unlawful actions have put the taxpayers at risk.

The mayor’s abuses of power include the continued employment of an Executive Administrator after the council eliminated that position from the budget. The city council removed the Executive Administrator (Salary $92,000) position from the budget effective July 1, 2020, but the Mayor continues to employ Amanda Mika in that position. The mayor’s unethical and illegal employment of Ms. Mika in a position not funded by council in the budget puts the city at risk for liability and is an abuse of power.

The Warren City Council intends to raise the issue of the unpaid bills with the Court at a scheduled settlement conference tomorrow at 9:00 am. The City Council is litigating the tax rates, city budget issues, and other matters in this lawsuit. The city council is committed to paying all city vendors and contractors as this is our legal obligation. But the mayor cannot pick and choose who gets paid based on who he favors, just as he cannot pay certain employees he favors out of positions not even in the city’s budget.

The settlement conference tomorrow is part of an ongoing dispute between the parties about the mayor’s abuses of power. The city council has already prevailed in court against the mayor on the issue of the city property tax cut and the term limit proposal that he attempted to keep off the ballot in November which voters approved 68%-32% limiting his terms of office to 3 terms or 12 years.

Warren City Council

The issue of payment to law firm Punkett Cooney will reportedly be heard in front of Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Richard Caretti on Friday, Dec. 11.

You can read the letter sent from Warren’s City Attorney Vinson to Plunkett Cooney on May 28 below.

Mayor Fouts and the city council have a history of conflict. Earlier this year, councilmembers expressed frustration over their strained relationship with the mayor that has reportedly impacted their work.

Just weeks ago, Mayor Fouts was at odds with the city council after it voted 5-2 to reject a proposed settlement that would grant 28 licenses for medical marijuana provisional centers on Nov. 24. That vote was vetoed by Fouts on Nov. 30.

The city’s long legal battle over medical marijuana appeared to be over in October of 2019 when a judge approved 15 marijuana licenses to operate within the city. However, the city found itself in legal trouble after a Macomb County judge ruled that its marijuana licensing process under the former city council was done in secret and violated the Open Meetings Act. Those 15 licenses that the city approved in 2019 were deemed invalid. Thirty-one marijuana business owners sued the city over that process.

The current city council was then presented with the new settlement in November to grant 28 new licenses in lieu of the original 15 licenses. That settlement would also dismiss the lawsuit filed by the 31 business owners.

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Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.