Warren officials upset with light penalties against ex-Mayor Fouts for violating state law

click to enlarge Former Warren Mayor Jim Fouts was fined and ordered to reimburse the city for using city resources for political purposes. - City of Warren

City of Warren

Former Warren Mayor Jim Fouts was fined and ordered to reimburse the city for using city resources for political purposes.

Former Warren Mayor Jim Fouts was ordered to reimburse taxpayers and pay a fine for endorsing political candidates on the city’s tax-funded television channel during his last State of the City address in June 2023.

But city officials aren’t happy with a penalty that they say amounts to a little more than a slap on the wrist.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office reached a conciliation agreement with Fouts that orders the former mayor to reimburse the city $750 and to pay the state a $750 fine. In exchange, state election officials won’t pursue charges against Fouts.

It’s the second time Fouts’s administration used the State of the City address for political purposes.

Warren City Council received a copy of the agreement Monday, and officials were dissatisfied.

“These fines are not a deterrent to Jim Fouts,” Council Secretary Mindy Moore said Tuesday. “He is a repeat offender. We need tougher laws against politicians that misuse public resources.”

Moore added, “I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not seek more penalties. He gets to pay a fine and move on for something that has landed others in jail.”

Violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act are punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Repeat offenders can face even more jail time.

State law bars public officials from using public resources, like a tax-funded television station, for political purposes.

During his State of the City address in June 2023, which was aired live on the city’s television station, TV Warren, and replayed twice a day for nearly two weeks, Fouts endorsed a slate of candidates and blasted his political opponents. He spent the last 12 minutes of his speech encouraging residents to vote for his choice of candidates for city council, clerk, and mayor.

City employees for the Warren Communications Department worked to broadcast, record, and stream the speech. They used city-owned cameras and a production truck and drew up graphics of the endorsements.

It wasn’t the first time Fouts’s administation was fined by the Secretary of State’s Office for politicizing the State of the City. In 2018, state election officials determined that Fouts and Public Service Director Richard Sabaugh violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act when the then-mayor turned the 2016 State of the City address into a fundraiser for a political action committee connected to Fouts.

In a conciliation agreement in July 2018, Sabaugh was ordered to pay a fine of $761.90.

In an email to Warren City Council, Secretary of State legal analyst James Biehl said the most recent reimbursement to the city was determined by the length of time Fouts endorsed candidates.

“The City of Warren provided us with an estimated cost for the State of the City address of $3,919.66 and the department reviewed the video and assessed a penalty based on the time used by Mr. Fouts for political activities,” Biehl wrote in the email.

Councilman Jonathan Lafferty said state officials never reached out to the council about the estimate and pointed out that the address was replayed twice a day for nearly two weeks, amounting to numerous days of taxpayer-funded political advertising. And that’s not to mention the misuse of city resources.

“Communications with the Secretary of State were withheld from councilmembers,” Lafferty said. “No estimate was ever provided for Council to consider before the state entered into a settlement. This was intentional. Fouts tried to keep this quiet so he could appear as if he did nothing wrong.”

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