Violating legal spending limits? Or much ado about nothing?

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published October 3, 2023

WARREN — On Sept. 21, the Warren City Council announced that its forensic audit report indicated Warren Mayor James Fouts allegedly violated legal spending limits through the city’s Downtown Development Authority by $460,037.58 in the fiscal year 2021-2022.

According to a press release from the City Council, the audit indicated the unauthorized spending allegedly included more than $50,000 for television ads featuring the mayor, and $60,000 on gift cards that were approved to be paid with COVID-19 relief funds.

The auditors found no evidence that COVID relief funds were used, according to the release.

According to the mayor, the gift cards would be distributed to stimulate local business during the pandemic.

“No COVID relief monies were ever a part of the DDA budget for fiscal year 2022. The DDA board meeting minutes (of September 2021) did infer that COVID relief monies were part of the gift card program. That was a misstatement on the part of staff,” said Fouts.

The City Council reportedly received complaints from Warren residents about the mayor appearing in television ads in what they called self-promotion. Many inquired if taxpayer dollars were used for that, according to Warren City Councilwoman Mindy Moore.

“The focus of the ads was on encouraging investment and development of the business community. My part in those ads was minor and totally in keeping with my role as mayor and chairman of the DDA board,” Fouts said.  “I am, by right, the spokesman for the city, like it or not.”

“This is much ado about nothing,” Fouts said. “All of the spending was approved.”

“That is not true,” said Warren City Councilman Garry Watts. “If it is not in the budget, he can’t spend it.”

“I hope the Department of Treasury and Attorney General take swift action to deter future violators from illegally spending tax dollars,” Watts said in a written release.