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January 1, 2014

Mayors reflect at year’s end

Looking forward and back with mayors David Hanselman and Jim Fouts

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Mayors reflect at year’s end
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said he will put his support behind developing Warren’s Civic Center in 2014.

CENTER LINE/WARREN — Mayor David Hanselman was gearing up for some much-deserved family time in the days leading up to Christmas in Center Line.

As the calendar counted down the final days of the year, Hanselman was ready to enter 2014 on a wave of voter confidence. He took almost 69 percent of the vote in November and was re-elected for another four years.

Having weathered some tough times at the helm of the city, Hanselman said he looked to the coming year with optimism and a full slate of plans for progress.

“I think we got a lot accomplished in the community,” Hanselman said of 2013. “We got all this new construction going on at Rinke Chevrolet Buick, and we got Crest Ford. We made giant strides on the budget, making sure we’re in good financial condition going forward. The Downtown Development Authority has done some major strides on partnering with the business community on façade grant and sign grant improvements.

“We got some contracts settled going forward, all kinds of things we’ve been working on, and now we’re preparing for the new year,” Hanselman said.

Center Line’s mayor labeled the road ahead “difficult but productive.”

“You have to make — as we’ve had to do over the last few years — we’ve got to make some tough decisions on how we’re going to fund certain things, but I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Hanselman said. “We finally just had a decent year. Going forward, we’ve got to zero in on the south end of town, and getting some things revamped down there.”

Hanselman said business improvements and new lighting along Van Dyke and 10 Mile Road, bolstered by the DDA, and the Beautification Commission’s efforts to improve the look of the city have been visible signs of progress. He also applauded new improvements and jobs at Chrysler Group LLC’s Mopar facility and hinted at a large project on the horizon in the city. 

“There’s things going on that I think are going to be great for the city,” Hanselman said. 

Across town, on the second floor of Warren’s City Hall, Mayor Jim Fouts said he spent the last days of 2013 poring over a spiral notebook filled with notes about messages left by residents, each tagged with the name of a department head tasked with resolving an issue. It’s something Fouts said he’s done not only as mayor, but while he served on the Warren City Council for 20 years.

“All things considered, it’s been a pretty good year,” Fouts began. “Obviously, litigation and that situation interfered, but that was a small part of the overall year.”

Fouts was referring to the whistleblower lawsuit filed against him and the city in federal court by former Warren CitiStat Coordinator Jim Hartley. The city reportedly settled the case for $175,000 in December, and the parties agreed not to talk publicly about the specifics.

The case, filed after Hartley alleged he was banished to a city garage to do menial work in retaliation for recording private phone conversations with Fouts that included profanity-filled outbursts by the mayor, was clearly a distraction that generated headlines. But Fouts said “the big picture” of 2013 — and of his six years now at City Hall — shows progress and positive forward momentum.

“The big picture is that we continue to make progress in terms of blight sweeps, police sweeps. We continue to demolish homes that aren’t in good shape. We continue to have a strong police presence in the city. We continue to have a strong fund balance. That’s unprecedented,” Fouts said. “We have safer and cleaner neighborhoods. That continues to be the case. I’m an on-the-job mayor. As you know, I don’t take vacations. I’m here every day, walking up and down the halls. I don’t use city resources. I don’t use a city car. I work through my lunch hour. I work 24-7.”

Holding a stack of spiral notebooks — roughly one for every three months, each filled with notes in his own handwriting — Fouts prepared to enter the new year, now past the midpoint of his second term in office. When asked, he said Jim Fouts the mayor and Jim Fouts the self-described “neighborhood councilman” are essentially the same person, albeit one now seasoned by administrative experience.

“I’m better at what I do. I have a better overall grasp of the big picture,” Fouts said. “When you’re a councilman, you don’t have a grasp of the big picture. You may have a more narrow-minded view, and you may not be able to make judgments that are in the best interest of the city as a whole. As mayor, I just can’t look at it from a narrow point of view.”

He again held up his pile of notebooks.

“I’ll say this: Jim Fouts the councilman did this. Jim Fouts the mayor is still doing this,” Fouts said. “(On the City Council) I championed the people who had neighborhood concerns that the city wasn’t taking care of. Jim Fouts still does this today.”

Looking ahead to 2014, Fouts said Warren residents can expect to see the new Wal-Mart open at 12 Mile Road and Van Dyke this spring. He said plans to build a new Menards on Van Dyke north of 13 Mile Road were also moving forward.

Fouts said he plans to petition General Motors Co. to assist in developing the downtown area. He pledged to push for a pedestrian bridge spanning Van Dyke, between the GM Technical Center and Warren’s City Square.

He praised the city’s new-look DDA board and the work they’d done in 2013.

Like Hanselman, Fouts hinted at a big looming development but kept mum as the details played out. The mayor did say the development had something to do with vacant space on Van Dyke, next to the Civic Center.

In comments that would have certainly been out of character for “neighborhood councilman” Fouts, the mayor pledged his support for developing Warren’s “downtown,” something he once railed against with a passion.

“I was against building this fancy City Hall. My view hasn’t changed. This City Hall could have been built for about half the price,” Fouts said. “Jim Fouts has two choices. He can curse at those (empty) lots and say, ‘I want nothing to do with it,’ or he can take what he inherited and build a downtown. I can’t ignore it. I  have to embrace it.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.

Yeah, whatever Jim. Vance