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Feighan: Fouts’ alleged comments could affect Warren

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The first time I interviewed Warren Mayor Jim Fouts roughly 17 years ago, he was a councilman trying to bring some civility back to the city’s famously dysfunctional council by introducing a manners resolution.

Now it appears Fouts could use some serious manners of his own.

Fouts has been under fire for weeks for recorded comments he allegedly made about people with disabilities. The person on the recording — who sounds like Fouts — calls them less than human and wishes them well “in a cage.” Worse, the person even suggests they should be “Kevorkian-ed.”

In his first interview about the controversy with The Detroit News, Fouts insisted Thursday the voice on the recordings is not his.

The recordings “were very disturbing, very disgusting but not me,” Fouts said. “I’ve talked to a number of people, and while they were able to use my voice I think it was engineered in such a way that they were able to put something together that it was devastating. The more important thing is that is not me and I would not say that.

“Anybody who knows me knows that’s not me. I have devoted my life to public service,” said Fouts, a former teacher. “... I did not say that. That is not me.”

A local voice expert, though, told The News last week there is an 80 percent likelihood the voice belongs to Fouts. And the mayor hasn’t accepted an offer by a Warren City Council colleague Scott Stevens to pay for a voice analysis to prove it’s not him.

The recordings were released to the media earlier this month by Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who is locked with the mayor in a feud over the former landfill at Freedom Hill. Fouts insists the recordings were released to the public to distract from his feud with Hackel.

Whether Fouts’ voice was engineered or not, the alleged comments are the worst I’ve ever heard, by a public official or otherwise, disparaging those with cognitive impairments and using incredibly derogatory terms. They’re offensive to every person with disabilities and their loved ones — me included.

I have a 9-year-old daughter with severe special needs. My sweet little girl with red hair and brown eyes loves books, swimming and musical toys. She steals Cookie Crisp cereal from the pantry and likes watching family videos on our iPhones.

She also happens to have been born with a rare genetic condition. She needs help with almost everything — including eating and using the bathroom. But her value isn’t based on her abilities. She’s not an animal to be kept in a cage.

Whether the mayor accepts responsibility or not, his alleged comments could affect Warren and its business community. Warren is Michigan’s third largest city. It’s home to General Motors Technical Center, Big Boy Restaurants International LLC and Art Van Furniture.

Consumers make choices every day about whether to spend their money. I know I’ll think twice about spending my money or time in a city where its top official possibly doesn’t consider my daughter a human being.

Fouts, who was elected mayor in 2007, is aware of the possible fallout. Concerned about how the controversy could potentially affect his city and its reputation, Fouts says he’ll rededicate himself to improving his city’s level of inclusiveness.

He says he’s met with several special needs advocacy groups over the last few weeks, including the Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Michigan, and plans to work on improving accessibility at city buildings and working on transportation.

“I think we’ve done a lot already, but we’re going to do more,” says Fouts. “I want to be inclusive to all.”

There is one silver lining to this controversy. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who has a daughter with autism, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Arc of Michigan, an agency that helps those with developmental disabilities, in response to Fouts’ alleged comments. As of Wednesday, that campaign had already raised $20,000.

“Every single person has value and worth,” Calley wrote on the page’s introduction. “We must be vigilant in defending the dignity of all people, especially those with developmental or intellectual disabilities.”

I would agree. Those with disabilities — and their loved ones — deserve it.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mfeighan