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Appendix to Rasor investigation report released

ROYAL OAK — The saga surrounding an investigation of anonymous claims against City Commissioner Jim Rasor continues.

Following the Dec. 17, 2012, release of a six-page Oct. 15 legal opinion by attorney Bill Hampton that concluded Rasor had not violated the city’s ethics ordinance, the issue was revisited at the Jan. 7 City Commission meeting.

As a result, a 24-page appendix to the legal opinion was unanimously voted to be released, detailing what each person at the City Commission table — including the city manager, city attorney and city clerk — knew about Rasor’s application to use the former Fresard lot at 400 N. Main for Arts, Beats & Eats last August.

“The majority of us were being kept in the dark. What I got was a very narrow slice of what happened,” Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello said, while noting she had to leave the Dec. 17 meeting prior to the vote, due to illness. “Telephone interviews were proposed. This told me this was not a serious investigation, if you can call it an investigation. I don’t need to be an attorney to know that the facts in his report do not match the summary.”

Hampton’s report summarized that, “had Commissioner Rasor perfected his application and competed with the city for the right to lease the subject properties, that would have constituted both a conflict of interest, together with an ethics violation. However, because of the fact that that did not occur, no such violation existed.”

Some City Commissioners said they thought an ethics violation had occurred, even if Rasor had not completed the process or made any money.

“I don’t agree with him on the conclusions part of his report,” Commissioner David Poulton said. “I cannot agree with Mr. Hampton that there was no ethics violation.”

The newly revealed appendix shows the degree of awareness prior to an Aug. 14 anonymous letter sent to the City Commission and members of the media accusing Rasor of a conflict of interest. Clerk Melanie Halas received Rasor’s application for the parking permit, operating as You Park LLC, for 400 N. Main. She immediately informed City Manager Don Johnson, who told Mayor Jim Ellison, who confronted Rasor. City Attorney David Gillam found out a few days later.

“If he could pull the application down, he was not technically wrong,” Ellison said at last week’s meeting, regarding his initial thoughts. “I did what I thought was the right path to follow. I don’t feel I was involved in any sort of cover up. I think Mr. Rasor can confirm that, at many times, our discussions were not friendly. I remained steadfast that what he was doing was wrong. I tried to fix it on my own through Mr. Rasor, and I failed and I’m sorry. I’m being drawn through this and doing the best I can in uncharted waters.”

The appendix report noted that Johnson was angry with Rasor because the city was attempting to secure the same lot for use during Arts, Beats & Eats. Ellison’s reaction, which was made clear over text messages July 17 and verbal conversations afterward, was a mix of anger and disbelief.

City Commissioner Mike Fournier was the first commissioner to find out about the conflict in late July during a bike ride with Rasor, but Fournier thought nothing of it because he didn’t see it as a conflict.

The rest of the commission found out following the anonymous Aug. 14 message, after which many contacted Rasor, Gillam or Johnson to verify if the accusations were factual. Commissioner Kyle DuBuc “told Rasor it was a boneheaded move, and that money shouldn’t be anywhere near this because AB&E is so publicly politicized,” according to the appendix.

Rasor did not speak on the matter at last week’s meeting, having stated both at the Dec. 17 meeting and in the report appendix that he did nothing wrong and was happy Hampton agreed with that assessment. During an interview with the Review, Rasor said he didn’t speak because he didn’t want to spur the debate further.

“I didn’t think the city was interested in those lots,” Rasor said. “If I hadn’t tied up those lots and the city didn’t pick up those lots, some other third party would have. I backed out of the deal and I allowed the city of Royal Oak to have those lots and make that money.”

However, he added that he felt commissioners who are also business owners within the city may get the short end of the stick.

“I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusion that a business person who is a city commissioner would have to check in with City Hall,” Rasor said. “I’m the only person on that commission that is a Royal Oak business owner and have been a Royal Oak business owner for two decades.”

He told Jennifer Hill, Hampton’s assistant with the interviews, that he has been the subject of several untrue anonymous letters sent to the City Commission, city staff, media outlets and nonprofit groups within the city in recent years.

Rasor has had his differences with resident Geof Vasquez for an accusatory Dec. 15, 2012, blog questioning Rasor’s representation, as an attorney, for Murray Investments, 423 N. Main, in a delinquent tax case.

The taxes, which had been paid before the blog post, were also the subject of a pair of Dec. 31, 2012, anonymous letters sent to Gillam, Poulton, Capello, Goodwin and three local media publications, including the Review.

The full report appendix can be viewed at www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us/portal/sites/default/files/ meetings/City%20Commission/ 2013/AppendixA-Oct152012-legal opinion.pdf.