Fouts pleased after panel rejects recall petitions

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said he is “moving on” after six petitions seeking to recall him from office were rejected Monday during a special meeting of the Macomb County Election Commission.

“Obviously, I’m pleased because hopefully this will end the distractions involving the city of Warren government, and we can continue to focus on what’s most important, (which is) two simple things: serving the citizens of Warren and protecting the citizens of Warren,” Fouts said. “I have committed no crime, I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m not going to be distracted by this issue that has been festering for a long time.”

The panel on Monday turned down the recall effort after evaluating the “clarity and factuality” of the petitions, one filed March 8 and five March 16 by Warren resident Joseph Hunt. County Treasurer Lawrence Rocca and County Senior Probate Judge Kathryn George examined the petitions Monday, rejecting each without providing explanation.

Hunt in his first petition cited audio recordings that captured either Fouts or someone who sounds like him demeaning people with disabilities, blacks and older women. In the filing, Hunt claimed the voice on the recording has been “verified as the mayors (sic) voice.”

Two additional petitions filed March 16 by Hunt also addressed the tapes. Three more referenced Fouts’ complaints about dumping at Freedom Hill, the Michigan Bureau of Elections investigation into Fouts’ alleged use of public resources to raise money for a political action committee, and calls by public officials for Fouts to resign.

Fouts spoke with The Detroit News on Monday and vehemently denied the validity of the recordings.

“I’m convinced that these have been manufactured ... by people who wanted to hijack the 2015 election,” Fouts said. “This has all been formulated, in my opinion, by outsiders or people who want to get even.”

Fouts said he would not entertain calls to submit to a polygraph test or to engage an audio expert to analyze the recordings.

“There’s no need for me to take a polygraph because that is a phony, manufactured tape,” he said.

Fouts repeatedly said his focus remains on his city.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going on in Warren, and this issue with the recall is distracting from it,” he said. “We’re awash in a lot of development.”

Hunt, the petitioner, said after the meeting he intended to appeal the rejections to Macomb County’s circuit court.

“I feel that I was stonewalled here today. I’m very disappointed,” he said. “The mayor needs to go. Here’s been around too long; he’s senile.”

Fouts indicated he was not concerned with Hunt’s next steps.

“Mr. Hunt can do whatever he desires to do, but I’m moving on. I really don’t have time to worry about what Mr. Hunt might say or might not say,” Fouts said. “I’m here to complete the job that I was elected to do.”

Fouts was defended at the meeting by privately retained attorney Tom Ryan, who stressed a 2012 change in recall laws that required petitions to be not only clear but also factually accurate. Many of Hunt’s petitions qualified for rejection because they included opinion-based statements, the attorney said.

Ryan argued the first petition should be rejected based on the misspelling of the mayor’s name. At the top of the petition, the elected official’s name is listed as “James R. Fout.”

The second petition was rejected after Fouts’ attorney alleged the material was recorded in late 2009, shortly after the death of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. A man alleged to be Fouts could be heard on the tape saying Shriver had “just died.”

State law requires recall petitions to be based upon alleged misconduct in an official’s current term. Tapes from 2009 would be inadmissible for recall efforts regardless of validity, Ryan said.

A petition about Freedom Hill was rejected after Ryan argued that Hunt stated opinion when he wrote that the mayor’s Facebook post “alarmed the public.”

County Clerk Karen Spranger was expected to serve on the commission Monday but recused herself shortly before the afternoon meeting.

Officials declined to comment on Spranger’s motivation for recusal, but she filed unsuccessful petitions of her own to recall Fouts in 2014, before she took public office.

At the time, she cited recordings of telephone conversations between Fouts and James Hartley, the city’s former efficiency administrator who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Warren and the mayor in July 2013.

Her petitions were rejected by a panel that included George.

Spranger later lost the November 2015 mayoral race against Fouts, scoring around 15 percent of the vote. She was elected county clerk in 2016.

Hunt told gathered media that he filed the petitions “because no one else would.”

“I’m tired of listening to Mayor Fouts persecute people,” he said. “He could drop kick a baby through goalposts and people would still vote for him.”

If a petition had been approved Monday, Hunt would have been granted 60 days to collect 9,200 valid signatures to get his recall language added to an election ballot, according to election officials.

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Twitter: @HollyPFournier