Warren Mayor James Fouts, who increasingly has relied on social media to communicate with the public amid the controversy over secret recordings of derogatory remarks attributed to him, has landed in separate Facebook behavior feuds with a pair of elected city officials.
In a post Monday morning, Fouts blasted city Treasurer Lorie Barnwell and accused her of hijacking his list of Facebook friends, ostensibly to become friends with some of the mayors social media pals, colleagues and acquaintances. Fouts said Barnwell and her husband, Bill, are no friends or supporters of mine and that he did not authorize or ask her to do so.
This is UNPRECEDENTED that an elected official would hack or hijack another officials private Facebook. I consider this an invasion of my privacy. I was not aware that my friends have to be protected of their privacy from another elected official, the mayor wrote.
Furthermore, I have never gone on her Facebook nor have I have ever attempted to hijack her friends! Now with this HIJACKING, you can expect negative attacks by Lorie, her husband, or anonymous sources. Please ignore any attacks on me by Lorie and her friends. Bottom line is I do not engage in this type of behavior and I dont expect another elected official to stoop this low either, he added.
Fouts pointed out again that he endorsed Barnwell in her successful 2015 campaign for treasurer, when she defeated incumbent treasurer Carolyn Kurkowski Moceri.
No good deed goes unpunished! Fouts added. For the record, I have NEVER made any negative public commentary about Lorie or her husband. Thus, Im disappointed by this betrayal of trust by allowing her to be a friend. She misled me when I allowed her to be my friend! With friends like that you dont need enemies! I am hurt and so disappointed in Lorie.
On her own Facebook page, Lorie Barnwell offered this explanation to Fouts accusation: I have been working on expanding my social media network and including more friends from Warren. Social media is a great way to connect with residents, the treasurer said. I am confused on the outrage of Mayor Fouts this morning. I am an elected official just as he is who wants to communicate with those I serve. I have never posted anything negative about anyone on my page. My page is designed for resident connection and the happenings of my adminstration (sic), Barnwell wrote.
In a prepared statement not on Facebook, Barnwell early Monday afternoon said: Calling this hacking or an invasion of privacy is extremely irresponsible, she said. People are free to accept or deny a social media request. If they dont want to connect with me on social media, or dont want to vote for me in the future, that is their right. My only aim is simply to make myself more accessible to residents and to increase transparency of City Hall.
In January, a growing list of elected officials from city, county, state and federal elected office called on Fouts to resign after the second release of secretly recorded, disturbing comments of a voice that sounds identical to Fouts. In that second recording, the person on the recording refers to African Americans as chimpanzees. At the time, Barnwell publicly urged Fouts to demonstrate the tapes were forgeries or to step down.
Bill Barnwell was replaced as a member of the Warren Housing Commission in February by Fouts, who appointed Melody Magee. Barnwell claimed the move was an act of political revenge by the mayor over the city treasurers statement that Fouts attempt to show proof that the audio recordings were doctored — as Fouts has insisted repeatedly — or step down from office. Fouts, however, denied the accusation of revenge and defended his choice of Magee to succeed Bill Barnwell on the senior housing board.
On Monday, a strong reaction in defense of Fouts claim of Facebook hijacking prompted Lorie Barnwell to file a police report. The person wrote: If I ever see her and her family I all(sic) blast her and them. The person also said, bit– your (sic) done and So Barnwell, your time is up, stay out of the publics view. Ill be watching bit–.
The Fouts-Barnwell exchange on social media is the second Facebook-centered action involving the mayor in the last seven days.
Near the end of last weeks Warren City Council meeting, Councilwoman Kelly Colegio criticized the lack of information provided to council members about the prospect of Warren joining the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor sewer system district. Colegio was dismayed to learn about the issue via a Facebook post by Fouts.
Colegio, who formerly worked as an assistant in the mayors office before election to her first council term in 2011, then veered toward the recent firestorm ignited by the audiotapes.
I know it can be very stressful going through what the mayor, you know, has been going through and its been stressful for other people on council as well, she said.
When I have the mayor of the third-largest city in the state of Michigan call and tell me and make a comment about my mother is friends with somebody thats saying bad stuff about him, she said.
Colegio said her mother, age 76, lives about 90 minutes from Warren, doesnt drive, has some special needs now but spends some time on Facebook.
Do not troll my mothers Facebook, Colegio said. If you have a problem and you want to come at me politically, thats fine. I dont want to fight with you politically. I want to do whats best for the city. Thats all Im going to say about that.
My mother is off the table.
Fouts, who seldom attends council meetings and sends department heads in his place, was not on hand for that March 14 session.
Im not happy with a lot of things that happened to the mayor. Im not happy with a lot of things the mayors done. But you know what? I can respect his office, but I need him to respect mine.
If you want to say something to me politically, fine. But Im telling you: Family is off the table.
Fouts did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment for this report.