Appeals court: Warren Mayor Fouts can’t run for office again in 2023

Court says term limits do apply retroactively

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts

WARREN, Mich. – An appellate court ruled Friday that current Warren Mayor James Fouts is not allowed to run for a fifth term this year, overturning the ruling of a lower court that permitted Fouts to run.

As of Friday, April 21, Fouts has been disqualified from running in the city’s 2023 mayoral race after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that recently-approved term limits do apply to the current mayor.

UPDATE: Warren mayor ‘disappointed’ after state Supreme Court affirms he can’t run for 5th term

In 2020, Warren voters approved a charter amendment that would establish term limits for city mayors that match term limits for other Warren office holders: three 4-year terms, or 12 years total. However, Fouts -- who has served as the city’s mayor since 2008, 15 years to date -- said the term limits don’t apply to him.

The amendment passed with a 68% majority in 2020, taking effect during the beginning of Fouts’ fourth term as mayor. Fouts and city attorney Ethan Vinson argue that the amendment did not specify that it applied retroactively, and therefore doesn’t count the previous terms served by Fouts.

But others, especially the Warren City Council, disagree, arguing that the amendment stated that all years prior and terms served prior to the amendment “were included in the count,” according to Councilmember Mindy Moore.

The council sued Fouts after he made his intention of running again known, despite the term limits in place. The city’s election commission approved Fouts to run, and a Macomb County Circuit Court judge ruled in March that Fouts is eligible to run in 2023.

“In this case, there is no specific language in the Charter indicating that prior years served are counted towards the amended term limits,” said Judge Joseph Toia.

The Warren City Council appealed Judge Joseph Toia’s ruling to the state appeals court, saying the ballot language specifically stated that “any terms or years served prior to this amendment are included.”

“The voters knew exactly what they were doing when they voted for term limits,” the city council’s attorney wrote in March.

The circuit court’s decision was reversed on Friday, when the Michigan Court of Appeals sided with the Warren City Council. Warren Election Commissioner Sonja Buffa is being ordered to “immediately disqualify” Fouts as a mayoral candidate in 2023, and to not put his name on the ballot.

The written decision cleared up the “retroactive vs. prospective” issue at hand, saying the charter amendment is in effect for the 2023 election, which would bar Fouts from being able to run.

“... the (city) Council here seeks only prospective application of the amendment. It did not retroactively seek to disrupt Mayor Fouts’ fourth term in office after the 2019 election once the amendment passed in 2020. Rather, the Council now seeks a declaration that Mayor Fouts is subject to the version of the charter in effect in 2023, on the basis of term limits amendment passed in 2020, for the election that will occur later this year,” Friday’s decision reads. “Prospectively, the terms served before the amendment’s passage will be counted. Thus, the amendment need not be applied retrospectively to afford the Council relief.”

You can read the entire appellate decision below.

Ongoing tension has plagued the city government for years, with Fouts and the city council constantly at odds. Prior to this lawsuit, the council had sued Fouts eight times for incidents in the past.

Fouts was first elected Warren mayor in 2007.

About the Author:

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