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January 16, 2013

‘End of a Beras era’

City remembers late city attorney

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

SOUTHFIELD — The passing of Southfield City Attorney John E. ‘Jack’ Beras on Jan. 7 was the end of an era, Councilman Donald Fracassi said.

“He was such an influence on everyone who was around him. The city attorney plays a big role in helping us get the right zoning, the right information to go forward and build a city,” Fracassi said of the 64-year-old who served as city attorney for 26 years. “Beras was totally involved in the city, not just from a legal standpoint, but his family has played a major role in the development of the city. This is the end of a Beras era, I call it.”

Fracassi, who was the mayor of Southfield while Sigmund Beras, Jack’s father, was city attorney in the ’70s, says he helped to “talk” his son into accepting the position a few years down the road, after he served a successful four years on City Council.

“He was very proud of the city and being a councilman,” Fracassi added, noting the special experiences of seeing Beras raise a family in Southfield and witnessing him and his dad in friendly legal debates.

Councilwoman Joan Seymour, who met Beras when she and a group of environmentalists worked with him on two ordinances to protect the woodlands and wetlands in the ’80s, said she’s “personally devastated” by his passing.

“He was considered a ‘lawyer’s lawyer,’” she said. “He was a person of such high integrity, a counselor to the City Council, totally professional, and he had no ego.”

Seymour later served on City Council with Beras, too.

“As an individual, he is and was an unforgettable person. He’s left a gaping hole in the city,” she said.

Before being appointed as city attorney in January of 1987, Beras was in private practice for 14 years, serving the city in various capacities, including on council, as a planning commissioner and as a police and fire civil service commissioner.

Beras also worked extensively as an advocate for the Southfield Public Library, including as a commission chairman during the construction of the new library in 2003. Michael Manion, of the city’s community relations department, said the Beras name became “very closely associated with the city of Southfield.”

In his profession, Beras served as president of the Southfield Bar Association and won awards, such as the Distinguished Municipal Attorney of the Year award by the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys in 2009.

As city attorney, Beras successfully represented Southfield in more than 100 cases. He also drafted dozens of ordinances, none of which have been successfully challenged, and 25 charter amendments, all approved by local voters.

In 1995, he argued the case of Ewing v. City of Southfield, in the trial court and the Court of Appeals, during which the legality of the property tax administration fee was upheld. That decision reportedly saved the city from a multimillion-dollar judgment and sustained a fee widely used by communities throughout the state.

Southfield resident Eunice Rose, who worked with Beras on the library board, wrote in to express being honored to work with him.

“All of us … who knew him and worked with him saw him as an honorable, kind, brilliant, caring man who was passionate about our city,” she said in an email. “We will miss him.”

Beras’ funeral mass took place Jan. 12. Cards may be sent to the City Attorney’s Office, 26000 Evergreen Road, Southfield, MI 48037, for forwarding to the Beras family. Currently, Susan Ward serves as the deputy city attorney and the position of city attorney is a mayoral appointment, with approval of the City Council.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.