Warren sued over salary disclosure FOIA request

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published March 5, 2021


WARREN/MOUNT CLEMENS — The legal foundation tied to a conservative public policy think tank has filed a lawsuit against the city of Warren, alleging that it failed to honor a public records request seeking both the names and salaries of city employees.

The lawsuit, filed on March 1 in Macomb County Circuit Court, came after an online report from Michigan Capitol Confidential, an information arm of the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The report, details of which were later confirmed by Warren city administrators, cited 2020 salaries for some city firefighters that approached or exceeded $200,000 as a result of increased overtime.

The Mackinac Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Warren on Jan. 7, asking for the salary amounts of every city employee for the 2019 and 2020 calendar years. According to a release from the Mackinac Center, salaries were provided by the city on Feb. 2, but no names were included. The release stated that the city claimed the names were exempt from disclosure.

“Michigan courts have consistently held that identifying individual government employees is part of the public’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” the Mackinac Center stated in the release.

“The city’s failure to provide this information demonstrates a disregard for public transparency,” said Steve Delie, the Mackinac Center’s director or public policy and Workers for Opportunity. “The names and salaries of public employees have been clearly established as nonexempt information. It is essential that the public be able to track how its tax dollars are being spent.”

The Mackinac Center stated in its release that it files dozens of similar requests every year across the state for information about employees paid with public dollars.

In a memo sent to Warren Mayor Jim Fouts addressing the FOIA request, Warren Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams said annual wages for some employees in the Fire Department “approached or exceeded $200,000” in some cases as a result of vacant positions and restructured deployments, implemented to ensure the continued operation of emergency services during the coronavirus pandemic with staffing at contractually obligated levels.

In a prior interview with the Warren Weekly, McAdams said the amount of overtime was “very much unusual” and that it was the result of the department being 17 firefighters short of full staffing, and operational changes necessitated by the department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Warren’s records provided in the memo by McAdams, Fire Department employees worked a total of 43,005 hours of overtime at a rate of time and a half of each employee’s hourly rate. That would equal an average of 380.57 hours of overtime for each employee, or 16 24-hour shifts.

While some employees turned down overtime, McAdams said 12 accepted more than 1,000 hours, or 42 24-hour shifts. Two more employees accepted more than 2,000 hours, or 84 24-hour shifts.

According to Warren’s budget, the base annual salary for a firefighter ranges from $77,564 to $113,564 for a battalion chief.

The city spent less on regular time wages in 2020 with staffing at 113 out of 130 budgeted positions. But overtime ballooned beyond a budgeted amount of $650,000 to $1,183,531 through 17 biweekly pay periods in the current fiscal year that began on July 1.

The complaint and other documents related to the Mackinac Center’s inquiry can be viewed at www.mackinac.org/CityofWarren FOIA.