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February 10, 2014

Fouts: ‘I’m not going to be destroyed’

Mayor responds to online videos, ethical concerns and ‘political terrorism’

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — Mayor Jim Fouts said detractors who want to “regain control of City Hall” have launched a series of “personal attacks” that included a recent spate of videos calling his relationship with a subordinate city employee into question.

Speaking to the Warren Weekly for the first time since a series of videos that appeared to show the mayor and his executive assistant, Amanda Mika, traveling together and holding hands, Fouts brushed aside any concern about ethics as unfounded and labeled the videos “political terrorism.”

Three clips had been posted to “The Warren Forum” online message board as of Feb. 6. The videos included footage of what appeared to be Fouts and Mika traveling in Chicago, dining and walking together, hand-in-hand. The clips called their relationship into question and pointed to a recent raise given to Mika. The anonymous creator of the videos claimed “most others did not” receive salary increases, and also pointed out that city employees recently saw changes to their health care coverage.

The videos, reported by the media throughout metro Detroit, prompted Fouts to issue a statement Jan. 24 defending Mika’s $5,000 salary increase in December. Fouts said Mika and two other employees — who were given raises of $2,000 and $10,000, respectively — received additional compensation because they took on additional work while another employee remained on sick leave.

Fouts said on Feb. 6 that the raises were temporary.

He also said the buzz surrounding the videos was generated by “the same people that are mean-spirited” and “full of hate, and they want to regain control of City Hall.” But the mayor said he wouldn’t name names for legal reasons.

“Obviously, they’re not happy with my administration’s success. They’re doing everything they can to derail that,” Fouts said. “The feedback I get from everybody is, ‘You have a right to privacy.’”

With respect to privacy at City Hall, Fouts said Public Service Director Richard Sabaugh found something interesting hidden in an old budget folder in his office last spring. The voice-activated audio recorder, discovered in Sabaugh’s office in May, was recently turned over to the Warren Police Department for examination.

“I found it probably in May, and I didn’t think anything about it. There was nothing on it,” Sabaugh said. “I never knew it was there. I downplayed it because I thought somebody misplaced it in the previous administration.”

Fouts said he in no way would accuse former Mayor Mark Steenbergh of being involved in anything happening in and around City Hall these days. But he and Sabaugh now believe that someone opposed to the current administration tried to capture their conversations as a way of generating intelligence that could be turned into negative political spin. 

“Clearly, it was meant to record my conversations, and the mayor used to come in my office a couple times a week to talk about the city, my division, everything like that,” Sabaugh said.

Fouts added, “It’s pretty bad when somebody has a hidden, self-activated voice recorder in somebody’s office. The big question is there should be some security. Who are these people? Why are they putting together this anonymous video? And why is The Warren Forum a part of it?”
The online forum also took center stage in a lawsuit filed by Warren Deputy Public Service Director Gus Ghanam in 2012. The case could soon head to the Michigan Supreme Court after Ghanam recently lost an appeal over whether he could force the public disclosure of the forum’s owner and reveal the identities of several people who posted alleged lies about him under pseudonyms.

Recordings of Fouts have factored into two other recent flaps at City Hall.

In December, the city paid former Warren CitiStat Coordinator Jim Hartley $175,000 to settle a federal whistleblower lawsuit that centered on a pair of phone conversations with Fouts that were interspersed with profanity and violent remarks. Hartley claimed he was stripped of his duties at City Hall and banished to a Department of Public Works garage to count auto parts by hand last summer in retaliation for turning the recordings over to the Michigan State Police for investigation. No charges were ever filed against the mayor, who publicly apologized for the profanity.

Last February, Warren City Council Secretary Scott Stevens said he secretly recorded a budget meeting with the mayor and an employee of the council office. Stevens alleged Fouts had “verbally attacked” the employee in two previous meetings over the status of her employment with the city.

Again, Fouts responded by claiming that most people find secret recordings unseemly.

“Who are these people? Why don’t these cowardly, hidden-camera people come out and say who they are?” Fouts said. “I’ve got great things to be concerned about other than personal, vicious attacks that are political terrorism.

“I’ve really had it. Enough is enough. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not going to be destroyed, and I’m not going to allow my people to be attacked,” Fouts said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.