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MI Court of Appeals sides with Warren City Council over mayor in budget dispute

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts
City of Warren

The Warren City Council can amend the mayor’s proposed budgets, and the mayor can only spend money the council has authorized. That’s according to a new Michigan Court of Appeals ruling.

The rulingis part of an ongoing legal battle between the Warren City Council and Mayor James Fouts.

It started in 2021, when Fouts proposed a budget that included almost $700,000 for Warren’s Downtown Development Authority. Fouts chairs that Authority, and some of the money was intended for a promotional campaign that included him.

The City Council reduced the overall amount to $10,000 in the budget it ultimately adopted. But Fouts went ahead and spent additional money anyway, arguing that the council had no right to amend the budget under the city charter, only to either adopt or reject it.

The council eventually sued Fouts over the dispute, and won. Fouts appealed that decision.

Now the Michigan Court of Appeals has weighed in, also siding with the City Council. The court said the City Council has the power to amend budgets, and that Fouts can’t spend money it hasn’t authorized.

“The Charter gives to plaintiff [City Council] the power to appropriate money; thus, plaintiff had the clear legal right to be the only governing entity within Warren that could do so,” the Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion. “Defendant also had a clear legal duty to comply with the law by authorizing only those expenditures that were first approved by plaintiff.”

“Contrary to defendant’s [Fouts'] suggestion, there is no discretion in determining whether money has been appropriated for a particular program or project. Plaintiff either appropriated the money or it did not. If the money is appropriated, defendant is authorized to spend it. If the money is not appropriated, he is not so authorized.”

Fouts could not be reached for comment on the decision Friday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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