Warren residents: Get Fouts out
Days after Lanette Olejniczak learned about Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ alleged comments disparaging the disabled, the special education teacher still sees the fallout.
One of her students now wonders if people think he should die. Angered, Olejniczak spoke out Tuesday at a City Council meeting, calling for the mayor’s resignation.
“People with disabilities are not weird. They are not freaks. They should not be put in cages,” she said. “They are human beings.”
The controversy over the tape released Thursday escalated, with more community members Tuesday demanding Fouts step down and even Michigan’s lieutenant governor weighing in.
Angry residents, some whose voices cracked as they addressed the council, cited references in the recording that belittle people with disabilities and refers to wishing them well “in a cage.”
“Have a heart and leave,” Olejniczak said. “Mr. Mayor, these people vote for you and maybe not anymore.”
Detroit Pastor Maurice L. Hardwick called on the council to address the matter, decrying the views expressed in the recording as “dead wrong. … What he said shows somebody who’s not all the way there.”
Chris Hartman, another resident who said he has a special needs relative, said he could not shake the impact of the taped words, which were released Thursday by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who is feuding with Fouts over dumping at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights.
“His words literally made me sick to my stomach,” he told the council. “I’ve been like this the past few days… Any time this comes on the news, it’s just so upsetting.”
Fouts, who was not at the meeting, has denied the voice in the recording is his, calling it doctored, and has called its release an attempt at retaliation.
The fallout may be limited for the mayor of the state’s third largest city.
“The council doesn’t have the authority to do any type of action against the mayor… legally,” council Secretary Robert Boccomino said, adding it’s more likely the governor could seek to remove him.
Still, many of the advocates, parents and others who stepped to the microphone Tuesday night wanted to voice their outrage over the alleged remarks by Fouts they called unbecoming of a public figure.
“I have not been able to sleep or stop crying since I heard this on the TV,” said Bonnie Kern, a lifelong resident. “My oldest son cannot speak and lives in a group home. He’s one of the people Mayor Fouts thinks should be in a cage. I feel like somebody stuck a knife in my heart. I can’t sit back and not speak. I’m just sick.”
Another urged the mayor not to “hide behind the curtain.” “He needs to come out publicly” and address the issue, he said.
Fouts did not return repeated attempts for comment Tuesday.
Still others called for a measured response to the recording, calling for a forensic examination to determine who is speaking in the recording. At least one speaker pointed out the tape was released amid a growing public feud between Fouts and Hackel over dumping at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights.
“The real issue is that someone doesn’t like Mayor Fouts looking into whatever is going on at Freedom Hill,” said Robert Alexander, who works in Warren.
The blistering public comments came hours after the state’s lieutenant governor weighed in on the controversy.
The comments by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley came after a news conference Tuesday in Clinton Township aimed at reversing the stigma people with disabilities face. He was joined by disability advocates to raise awareness of Calley’s new GoFundMe campaign to collect $250,000 for the Arc of Michigan, a Lansing-based group that advocates for those with developmental disabilities.
“I haven’t spoken with him recently, although he did make a contribution to the GoFundMe page,” Calley said, referring to Fouts. “When I first heard the comments, I think like anybody else, I was pretty mad about it. I took a little time to reflect, because I don’t like to respond when I’m mad. I let it sit for a little while.
“Then what we decided to do was try and turn it into an opportunity to restart the conversation around the need to end stigma in our world.”
Calley referred to a recently approved package of bills that will end “seclusion and restraint” practices in Michigan schools.
“It is clear that we wouldn’t accept that reality for any other person, so we cannot accept — we cannot allow — that for people with disabilities,” Calley said. “(The bills are) a testament to the hard work and determination of people to make the world work better for everyone.
“This is an exciting time,” Calley continued. “But we have to recognize, and those audio tapes that were released are a reminder, that we are not finished.”
Fouts’ name wasn’t mentioned Tuesday until Calley was questioned directly by media at the end of the event.
Hackel first released the incendiary recording after receiving it early Thursday from a friend of the Warren employee who allegedly taped the conversation. Hackel has said he does not know the source of the tape and received it already edited, with the employee’s voice missing.
“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 said in the audio.
Fouts has denied that it is his voice on the tape. Shortly after Calley’s news conference, the Warren mayor wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page, listing a number of responses to the controversy.
“A few thoughts regarding this,” Fouts said. “That tape is a phony tape and has obviously been altered and manipulated with. It’s horrific but it’s not me! I have helped ‘special needs’ persons in a variety of ways. I will discuss this later.
“I know that I need to do more and will devote time and effort to this issue,” Fouts continued. “I want to make things better going forward. If anything positive comes out of this, it is that there is more public attention on the needs of the special needs community. I will certainly do my part!”
Fouts also targeted the media for doing “whatever they can to encourage my demise,” and suggested the tape’s release was aimed at retaliation or deflection.
Each speaker at Tuesday’s news conference stuck to Calley’s message: The gathering was designed as a positive reaction to hurtful comments.
“Even though what brought us all here together today was harmful and painful, it was a gift,” said Malkia Newman, 63, who shared that she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. “We are letting people know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”
After the press conference, Calley told media that the audio contained the worst language he had ever heard against people with disabilities. But he stopped short of calling for Fouts’ resignation.
“I think it’s important that I not get involved,” Calley said. “There will be a process that local voters will go through. I try not to get ahead of voters and the decisions they make on who will represent them.”
Fouts has faced more fallout stemming from the recording controversy.
The contents of the tape cost Fouts his radio hosting gig at 910 AM, where he had a show Saturdays from 4-5 p.m. In a statement on Fouts’ firing, 910 AM owner Kevin Adell called the contents of the tape “despicable, deplorable and repulsive.”
“Mr. Adell added that while eating dinner with his wife and young daughter on Monday evening, a story about Fouts came on TV and as he looked at his family, they sat stunned and went silent,” the statement said. “It was at that point that Adell made the decision to fire Fouts.”
Station spokesman Mort Meisner said Fouts had backed out of last Saturday’s show “at the last minute” by way of a phone call, forcing the station to run a previous episode in its place. But it wasn’t that scheduling issue that got Fouts fired.
The statement quoted Adell: “The very people that Fouts sought to embarrass and humiliate are the folks who our society needs to protect the most, and I will never tolerate that sort of behavior.”
Fouts first took to Facebook last week, questioning 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!”
An audio expert contacted by The Detroit News said early testing of the audio suggest a likelihood of 80 percent that it was Fouts who spoke in the tape, where comments included, “Tonight I am going to meet a bunch of retards. Tonight is retard night.”
“We compared his voice to known samples we found on YouTube,” said Ed Primeau, founder of Audio Forensic Expert. “What really takes it home is when we do the biometric program, which comes back with numbers. The numbers are very, very high.”