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June 20, 2013

Fouts says ‘orchestrated effort’ targeting him

Secret recordings, allegations of spying fuel critics of mayor and his administration

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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Fouts says ‘orchestrated effort’ targeting him
In this 2007 photo, newly elected Warren Mayor Jim Fouts and longtime supporter Henry Krzystowczyk celebrated together on election night. Krzystowczyk, like some other former supporters and allies, has since become critical of Fouts and his administration.

WARREN — Mayor Jim Fouts spent election night in November 2011 surrounded by his political friends and supporters, savoring a historic landslide and equating the epic second-term victory to a ringing endorsement of his administration.

As the well-wishers mingled to the crooning of Frank Sinatra at Andiamo Italia, Fouts took the microphone to thank the crowd and to congratulate his “slate” of seven Warren City Council members, who had received his support and blessing and were elected by the voters.

Council member Scott Stevens was there. The top vote-getter in the city’s first race for an at-large seat on the Warren City Council in 2011, Stevens founded the Warren Activist Coalition in the mid-1990s and shared many of the concerns Fouts had when the mayor was a councilman.

Most of the mayor’s appointees were there, too. They’re the men and women tapped to run city departments, but because they’re appointees, it’s also their job to answer directly to Fouts.

Big band music, a 61.4 percent margin of victory and a political “clean sweep” for a Fouts-endorsed City Council slate: What could possibly go wrong for the mayor?

If you ask him, not much has. Fouts said the city’s budget is sound, its cash reserves are still there, crime is under control and his second term agenda is rolling along smoothly.

But less than two years after the big win, something has changed. Conversations are being recorded in secret, and some people who once allied themselves with the mayor are questioning his policies and practices.

How did it come to this?

There may be no fly on the wall inside Warren’s City Hall. But sometimes, echoes of internal rumblings can find their way out.

           

Foreshadowing

Cue the Sinatra. Four years before the election night party in 2011, Fouts basked in the company of longtime supporters who came to celebrate his ascension from “neighborhood councilman” to “neighborhood mayor.”

It wasn’t exactly a meteoric rise. Fouts spent his career teaching high school government by day while he served most of his 26 years on the City Council trumpeting the concerns of the man on the street and stirring the pot for the neighbor down the block. He made a political career penning volumes of press releases, often written with notes in his own handwriting and faxed to reporters when fax machines still mattered. He lambasted his mayoral predecessors for what they did or didn’t do in office and took verbal shots at his colleagues on the council who weren’t on board with the ideas and initiatives he delivered with resonant passion.

In 2006, Fouts urged the city to battle blight by declaring “war on weeds.” In 2003, he fought for building bat houses in city parks and the Edison Corridor to combat the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus. In 2001, he went after motels in the city that rent rooms by the hour. And all the while, he used his place at the council table to call for action against “neighborhood eyesores” and government waste with equal zeal.

That’s what longtime supporter Henry Krzystowczyk saw in Fouts, and it’s what he liked about him. It’s also why Krzystowczyk went to work for the mayor when he was elected in 2007.

“I seen a man that cares for the residents of our community. He had a vision of improving our city,” Krzystowczyk said this month. “He was like a stone wall against any corruption and any wrongdoing in the city. I felt like he was a true champion of the voters and the residents of this city, and that’s why I supported him.”

Krzystowczyk took a top job in Fouts’ administration as the mayor’s chief of staff but resigned six months later. While he said he respected and supported Fouts the councilman for 25 years, he said he didn’t like what he saw from Fouts the mayor.  

“What I seen there is, to put it politely, he didn’t have the experience to handle a large organization like the city,” Krzystowczyk said. “He started not believing in delegating responsibility. No man is an island. Over a period of time, in my viewpoint, that went out the window and he more or less calls the shots.”

 

Secret recordings

Months after Krzystowczyk’s resignation, Fouts told the Warren Weekly, “I’m a hands-on, demanding mayor,” when he was asked to discuss the departure of many high-level staffers.  

But while politics may sometimes make strange bedfellows, they also sometimes drive a wedge between allies.

It took a while, but Stevens, who received the most votes in the 2011 Warren City Council election as an at-large candidate backed by Fouts, eventually felt compelled to secretly record a budget meeting with the mayor, Public Service Director Dick Sabaugh, and Marcia Jamroz, a union employee and the administrator of the council office.

Stevens alleged Fouts had verbally “attacked” Jamroz in similar meetings the previous two years about whether her job should be a union position or an appointment. The alleged ongoing dispute was the subject of a grievance dated Feb. 25, 2013.

“I never would have thought to tape record the mayor. I never would have thought to tape record him, had he not done this two years in a row prior,” Stevens said. “That’s something that needs to be brought out.”

When two profanity-laced phone conversations between Fouts and a yet-to-be-named mayoral appointee were leaked in April, Stevens said he’d heard the mayor use violent and profane language before. He said he’d repeatedly heard Fouts speak harshly about Krzystowczyk and about “gouging his eyes out.”

On the appointee’s leaked recordings, in comments interspersed with expletives and violent statements, Fouts covered a variety of topics: his profile on Wikipedia, statements made on the Warren Forum online message board and the fallout from a federal lawsuit filed by a former assistant city attorney. At one point, Fouts said he’d beat one of the former employees — a known political rival of his — with a baseball bat if he saw him on the street. The recorded audio included a statement by Fouts about getting a gun and blowing the former employee’s head off.

The mayor also made a disparaging remark about City Treasurer Carolyn Kurkowski Moceri, another former ally of Fouts’ when she belonged to the Warren Activist Coalition, and when she served on the City Council with him.

Reached for comment about the remark, Kurkowski Moceri said Fouts later offered an apology and that she felt it was sincere.

“A lot of people told me that I should have been more aggressive, I should have wrote editorials, I should have wrote press releases, I should have banged the drums a little bit more,” Kurkowski Moceri said. “It almost was like, ‘One elected official is losing control. I shouldn’t.’”

             

Private eyes

Tomas Bania and Christopher Pasternack, both well-known critics of the Fouts administration, said they found an interesting document on their doorsteps a few weeks ago. Both men said they believe what was anonymously delivered to them is real.

The document, seemingly prepared by a private investigator, included a cover letter addressed to the Macomb Business United political action committee in care of Gus Ghanam, a Fouts appointee and Warren’s deputy public service director. Also attached was a report summarizing what amounts to a cursory examination of public records and limited personal information about Bania and Pasternack, as well as Krzystowczyk.

Ahead of the mayoral election in November 2011, Bania and Pasternack were among those most critical of Fouts’ claims of transparency at City Hall. Believing they were being deliberately stymied and wrongfully denied information through the mayor’s administration, they began seeking records from City Hall by Freedom of Information Act requests. One of their inquiries sought copies of Fouts’ affidavits of identity linked to the eventual flap over the mayor’s age and allegations of perjury.

The document dropped on their doorsteps appeared to show that the investigator was hired by the Macomb Business United PAC through a meeting with Ghanam to investigate them, along with Krzystowczyk, in late November 2011, after Warren’s city election. The document appeared to show the report was provided to Ghanam in February 2012.

“I mean to be perfectly honest, it’s quite disturbing,” Bania said of the report and Ghanam’s potential involvement. “It doesn’t seem like something any reasonable person should do to a private citizen, especially when they hold a government position.”

Pasternack said he stopped following Warren politics as closely after the 2011 election and that he was surprised to find the documents on his doorstep this spring showing that he was apparently investigated after he was already “out of the picture.”

“All I know is I came home one day from a job I was working and there were three pieces of paper in there,” Pasternack said. “I worry about my wife and my kids and myself. Are people following us around? And why are they following us?”

The cover letter attached to the private investigator’s report stated the information provided was a summary of the investigator’s findings “based upon a search of public records, limited surveillance and a few database inquiries that are available,” through his licensing.

The letter also stated that “nothing out of the ordinary was noted about the lives of the subjects of inquiry,” and that “surveillance would be necessary” if more information about their “personal comings and goings” was desired.

Reached June 11, Ghanam said he hadn’t seen the documents and declined comment.

But Krzystowczyk confirmed June 18 that he’d filed a complaint with state election officials about the PAC’s role in hiring the private investigator.

The complaint alleged Ghanam “hired a private investigator to investigate citizens in Warren for the benefit of the committee,” but that there was no reported campaign expenditure for the transaction.

“The only question I have to that investigation is, ‘Why?’” Krzystowczyk said. “I filed the complaint because it’s an invasion of my privacy. Now the question is where did these funds come from? Who knows how many people were investigated? Somebody had to get those documents, correct?  And pass them on to us? How did this person or persons obtain that document?”

The complaint also alleged Bania’s parents were “harassed” by the city’s Building Department at about the same time the report was compiled, and it questioned whether Ghanam used PAC money to investigate the family and to use the supplied information to “harass and intimidate the citizens in his governmental capacity.”

 

‘It’s drip, drip, drip…’

Fouts said he knew nothing about any request to investigate Bania, Pasternack and Krzystowczyk, and that he never ordered it. He initially referred questions to Ghanam, and then questioned the authenticity of the documents and the reasoning behind any such investigation.

“I think it sounds like a phony deal,” Fouts said. “It would be a stupid thing to do, anyway. It would be of no value. It would just inflate them and make them feel more relevant. It’d be like taking a machine gun to shoot mosquitoes.

“It’s drip, drip, drip — one thing after another. I don’t know anything about this. I suggest you call Gus.”

But beyond the latest controversy, Fouts said it’s clear that forces are lining up against him.

He lamented the fact that his conversations were leaked to reporters and that the words he claimed he said in anger, in private, became part of an “orchestrated effort” launched by those who want to “start again the reign of terror and incompetence” at City Hall.

“Harry Truman said, ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’ And frankly, if you want a friend in politics, get a dog,” Fouts said. “Politics is a rough sport. There’s a lot of treachery involved in it.

“Obviously, people have decided they want to have my job. I have no doubt these happenings were a well-orchestrated attempt to weaken me so someone can run against me in 2015.”

Fouts declined to speculate who might step forward to run against him, but said he expects more pressure in the run-up to what he likely hopes will be another night of big band music and victory speeches for his camp.

“I think the residents recognize treachery. Nobody likes treachery,” Fouts said. “Nobody likes people who secretly tape record other people. I think people recognize there’s a level of decency that everyone has to have. This goes below. It just ranks at the bottom of the bottom. I’m obviously unhappy and very disappointed, but I’m moving on.”

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