Former Robert Ficano appointee says he secretly recorded co-workers to protect himself

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A former appointee of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano says he secretly taped conversations of co-workers – and he says that he got the idea from Ficano himself.           

James Wallace sued Wayne County last year after he was allegedly fired for refusing to do campaign work on county time.

In a recent court filing, Wallace testified that, before he was let go, he recorded conversations. He said that he did this to protect himself because his then co-workers "would tend to lie," according to testimony in his deposition.

Wallace also testified that the idea to record people came from working with Ficano and former deputy county executive Azzam Elder.

Wallace said he believes the two men instructed him to wear a wire when doing work for the county's consumer protection agency.

The county has denied making Wallace do campaign work on county time.

In the meeting that was recorded, Wallace's lawyer says he was blindsided by this meeting with some of Robert Ficano's top appointees.

She says Wallace had already been blowing the whistle on being forced to do political work on county time.

 "I don't want to do it at work, because I don't feel safe doing it work, because when I came here, if I ever do anything like that – that's what people got in trouble, McNamara's people got in trouble for," said Wallace on the recording.

That's the voice of James Wallace – a former appointee of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.

Wallace's lawyer, Deborah Gordon, says the graphic artist had been pushing back at work about having to put together designs for political campaigns on county time.

When Wallace suddenly got pulled into a meeting with former county HR chief Tim Taylor, along with Wallace's supervisors Tom Downey and former communications director Lynn Ingram – Wallace secretly recorded the conversation.

"He was afraid when he went into this meeting, he didn't know if he was going to be fired, he didn't know what was going to happen. He was intimidated and afraid," said Gordon.

"My only problem is like if what people don't understand, because nobody communicates -- every single piece of political literature that went out, you don't even know this.  All those paper cards, whether it is for [Mario]Fundarski [Ficano's opponent in 2010], whether it was for the commissioners…  I did all that. I did all that for free and I don't ask anything about that," said Wallace on the recording.

In the meeting, Wallace raises concerns about preparing work for the Robert Ficano Hope Foundation.. a charity that Wallace's supervisor admitted under oath is "politically helpful" to Ficano.

"When you're being asked as part of your regular job to perform work for the chief executives personal charity - that's not the correct use of taxpayer time.  You're not benefitting the taxpayers, your benefitting the Robert Ficano charity," said Gordon.

Gordon says, on the recording, you can hear the former HR chief assuring Wallace that Ficano's charity work on county time is allowed.

"Those kinds of things can be done.  I would also suggest to you that unless you're asked to do something illegal, if you're supervisor says you can do it, you can do it," said Taylor on the recording.

At the end of the recording Wallace seems more upbeat about the so-called charity work…

"You can do those types of activities here," said Taylor on the recording.

"Alright.  I'm completely happy with that," said Wallace on the recording.

"Because we really do think you are a good employee.  You are," said Taylor on the recording.

"At the end of it he's trying to save his job," said Gordon.

But it didn't work.  Gordon says just a few weeks after this meeting…  Wallace was fired.  The county claims he was laid off as part of a cost saving effort.. but Gordon says county records dispute that.

"I don't mind doing charity.  I'll do that all day long.  But I don't want to do it here," said Wallace on the recording.

Because Wallace's whistleblower lawsuit is still making its way through the courts – officials from Wayne County can't comment on pending litigation.

But I should point out that they are the ones that actually attached these recordings to their latest court filing… so they must think the recordings help their case.

Wallace's lawsuit is one of many controversies involving the county. Ficano has been at the center of the firestorm since the 7 Action News Investigators uncovered the $200,000 severance Ficano gave former appointee Turkia Mullin when she voluntarily left her job.

 

 

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