Fouts, Hackel spar after leak of controversial audio

Holly Fournier, The Detroit News
Mayor Jim Fouts

Warren— Mayor Jim Fouts came under fire Friday after he was accused by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel of being caught on audio making disparaging comments about people with special needs.

“But you see these people, like uh, I don’t know, what good are they? They’re dysfunctional human beings. They’re not even human beings,” a man alleged to be Fouts says on the audio.

The audio was released by Hackel amid a growing public feud with Fouts over the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights.

Fouts, who could not be reached for comment Friday, took to Facebook to respond, saying he questions the validity of the audio.

“It’s clear this an attempt to silence me and intimidate me. I question the validity of this AWFUL tape, the context of the tape, and who was also speaking and where this speech was recorded,” Fouts wrote in his post. “The contents of this tape DO NOT reflect my attitude towards the mentally challenged. Mark Hackel will do anything and everything to disparage me. This recording was not me!”

Hackel on Friday confirmed he sent a tape to local media on Thursday. He added he recognized Fouts’ voice and was disturbed by the tape’s contents, but did not have answers to where and when the tape was recorded.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel

“It sure sounds like him to me and it’s extremely troubling,” Hackel said. “I have to believe that the mayor would say ‘That wasn’t me.’ What else can he say?”

Hackel said he does not know the origin of the recording, because it was sent to him around 3 a.m. Thursday from the friend of the Warren city employee who recorded the conversation. He added that he does not know the identity of the employee.

“They asked me to pass it along to a news reporter,” Hackel said. “After I listened to it, I couldn’t believe (what I heard) so I passed it along.”

Hackel said he felt he had little choice.

“If I don’t (pass it on), there would be questions of why I was sitting on it,” he said. “I thought if I didn’t do it, what if I was being tested here.”

The recording was edited to remove the employee’s voice prior to Hackel receiving it, he said. The county executive indicated he assumes the employee edited himself out to protect his identity.

“All I did was receive it and send it along,” Hackel said. “And now we are speaking to our legal counsel to make a determination of whether this is something that I’m required to pass on to some other (civil rights) organization because of the hatred in there.”

In response to Fouts’ questions on the tape’s validity, Hackel said the mayor should look to the unnamed employee.

“He’s going to have to challenge the source of the information, and that’s the employee who was in the room with him,” Hackel said.

Fouts: Hackel ‘covering up’ Freedom Hill dumping

Fouts has sought a state investigation into the dumping of excavated dirt at Freedom Hill, an outdoor music venue and a former landfill. Fouts has warned the dumping destroyed 44 methane gas wells, uprooted trees and caused leachate to leak.

The Michigan Democratic Party called the comments on the recording “completely reprehensible.”

“There is absolutely no reason such offensive, hostile, and disgusting language should ever be aimed at a group of blameless individuals who simply want to meet with their elected official,” the party said in a statement. “These despicable remarks immediately disqualify the speaker from the honor and privilege of calling themselves a public servant.”

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller in a statement on Saturday called the comments on the video "schocking" and "vile"

“The statements on this tape are so shocking and so vile it's difficult to know what to think about the individual who made them. If the tape is verified as Mayor James Fouts, and some voice experts have said it is, one thing is certain -- these terrible statements do not reflect the good decent people of the great City of Warren, Miller said.

 "They know those being referred to in this disgusting tape are some of the most loving and courageous people that live among us. All God’s creatures have a place in His choir and these are some of His most precious angels. We celebrate them every day of the year, but especially during this joyous Christmas season,”  Miller said.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier