Staffer: My position defunded by Warren City Council is not vacant

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Warren — Although the Warren City Council voted last week to eliminate a position in the mayor's office, the staffer who holds the job says the position is not vacant.

At a special City Council meeting on June 30, members voted to eliminate funding for the executive administrator position in Mayor Jim Fouts' office, held by Amanda Mika. It is the second time in two months that the council has eliminated a job in the Fouts administration.

 The position's annual salary was $90,857 under the city's budget for fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30.

"We eliminated a vacant position," Warren City Council Vice President Garry Watts told The Detroit News on Wednesday. 

City Council President Patrick Green said the body "absolutely" believed the position was vacant — but that learning later that it wasn't changes nothing.

"We went with the information we had," Green said.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts in 2014 goes over notes with executive assistant Amanda Mika.

Mindy Moore, a city councilwoman, said she reviewed her emails before voting to eliminate the position. When she saw Mika give her title as executive assistant, she was satisfied the administrator position was vacant.

Fouts calls the council "out of control" and says its decision was made "without checking with someone about whether this position was filled."

The City Council saw the administrator position as vacant because Mika, a 17-year veteran with the city, "signs her emails" with the title of executive assistant, Watts said.

Mika does refer herself as Fouts' executive assistant, but said she uses that title because it's more relatable to people, more easily understood.

"What does that even mean?" Green asked. Referring to Mika, he said "you're getting paid for one title but telling the world you're another? While another person holds that title?"

"I don't see why someone would be promoted, in essence, to deputy mayor and not use their title," Moore said.

The administrator role not only entails corresponding on the mayor's behalf, Mika said in an email to The News, but coordinating events held by the office, managing his schedule and, during the coronavirus outbreak, setting up COVID-19 testing centers and writing the city's back-to-work protocol.

"It's a lot more than just answering phones," Mika said.

And she said the matter is not about terminology — another staffer in the office officially serves as executive assistant — but a lack of due diligence on the council's part, failing to determine who works in exactly what roles in the six-person office. 

"A City Council member should not be making assumptions and voting without picking up the phone," Mika said. 

Mika said she's never been contacted by anyone on council. Everything could have been explained, she said.

"They are targeting me," Mika said. "It's clear what they're doing."

Watts, who was elected in November, sees it differently.

"I want transparency, and I want honesty, and we don't get either from the mayor's office," he said.

Watts argues that the mayor's office didn't meaningfully participate in the budget process.

At a mid-June budget meeting, held digitally, Fouts "just kept talking and talking about how great he was," Watts said, rather than getting straight to the budget.

Mika described it as Fouts taking "the one chance we get every year to talk about what we've done," nothing inappropriate or excessive.

Both sides agree on what happened next: Green ordered Fouts' microphone muted.

"I finally said 'enough is enough,'" Green said. 

Moore said Mika was not targeted specifically, and that council will continue to investigate positions to make sure the proper hiring or appointment process was followed. City Council has the power to disapprove appointees, she said, and was never given that chance with either the administrator role or the assistant job.

"I think there's going to be other appointees who are reviewed," Moore said. "There hasn't been proper checks and balances in Warren for years, but there is now."

The budget battle over the executive administrator position is the second time in recent months Warren's council and mayor have battled over personnel.

In May, Warren city attorney Ethan Vinson filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the council after it declared his position vacant.

More:Warren city attorney files discrimination complaint against City Council

"I didn't want to think" race was the heart of city council's problem with him, said Vinson, who is Black, at the time. "But the way it was targeted at me, it can't be anything else. No one has said anything to me, or called me any racially derogatory names, but all the efforts seem to be targeted at me."

To this day, Vinson is not officially recognized as city attorney by the council, which has hired its own legal representation.

"When your city attorney says 'the mayor said I can't give that to you,' he's not your attorney, he's the mayor's attorney," Green said. "So we hired special counsel" via Detroit-based law firm Plunkett Cooney.

Watts argued the two issues are different: the prior issue involves a position the council believes it should have voted on. And some on the council have raised quality and transparency issues with Vinson.

The latest budget move, though, was the elimination of a position that council thought was vacant, Watts said.

Taken together, Fouts said, "City Council has had issues with my highest-ranking African-American department head and with a woman department head who is Arab-American." 

"They certainly target unique people," Fouts added. "I'm sure they would say it's just a coincidence."

More than a week after her position was defunded, Mika was back at work. 

"I'm not going to up and quit; the work is too important," Mika said. "But I'm not sure how much longer I can work and not be paid."

Green and Watts both described themselves as frustrated with city hall. They say that department heads answer only to Fouts, and that the City Council's input goes unheeded. Meetings that were meant to clear the air only thickened it.

"We've gone to his table many times," Green said. "We've gone individually, and we've gone in pairs. Five minutes in, he's yelling and screaming. At this point, the mayor can lead with us, follow or get out of the way."

Twitter: @downi75