WARREN, Mich. – A former city administrator has been participating in settlement talks with Warren Mayor James Fouts and other city officials in an effort to resolve whistleblower claims alleging the mayor and city retaliated against him for secretly recording potentially incriminating telephone conversations.
James Hartley, a former mayoral appointee who worked as government efficiency analyst for Warren, Michigan’s third-largest city, filed his lawsuit against the city and Mayor Fouts in U.S. District Court in July. Mr. Hartley accuses the defendants of retaliating against him in violation of Michigan’s Whistleblower Protection Act, which provides protections to potential whistleblowers who would risk their careers and professional reputations by reporting wrongdoing.
Mr. Hartley’s whistleblower accusations stem from two recordings he made of Mr. Fouts talking angrily and profanely about other city officials. Mr. Hartley said he was becoming increasingly concerned about the mayor’s “furious vitriol” toward people whom he believed were political opponents.
According to CandG News, “Most of the statements were directed at the former city lawyer and another former employee who Fouts said he’d beat with a baseball bat if he saw him on the street. The recorded audio also included a statement about getting a gun and blowing the employee’s head off.”
Mr. Hartley provided the recordings to the police, who said nothing illegal occurred because the subjects of Mr. Fouts’ tirade weren’t party to the conversation. The recordings were leaked to the press, prompting the mayor to apologize publicly for his foul language.
On June 17, his last day on the job, Mr. Hartley gave a letter to the mayor demanding that he have an attorney preserve his employment records.
According to The Macomb Daily, “Hartley alleged that he was stripped of his normal job duties, blocked from his office, that his email was removed and that he was assigned to count auto parts by hand.” Mr. Hartley alleges that these events occurred in retaliation for the phone recordings.
Mr. Hartley seeks unspecified compensatory and exemplary monetary damages and reinstatement to his job, which paid $67,000 per year.
Mr. Fouts and his legal team have missed two deadlines to formally respond to the lawsuit. Two-and-a-half months after the lawsuit was filed, the legal team defending the city and Fouts have not yet formally filed an answer in court affirming or denying any of Hartley’s claims.
An attorney involved in the case told The Macomb Daily that the discussions were “ongoing.”
“How far they’ve gone or whether there’s light at the end of the tunnel, that sort of waits to be seen,” the attorney told The Macomb Daily. “It’s always good when parties talk, but it doesn’t always mean … a solution.”