Royal OakAugust 30, 2012
Commissioner Rasor under investigation for side business
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
ROYAL OAK — Arts, Beats & Eats is a profitable event for many local businesses, but City Commissioner Jim Rasor is under investigation for attempting to make a similar profit himself.
During a special meeting at 5 p.m. Aug. 24, the City Commission, including Rasor, started its weekend by voting unanimously to hire an attorney to investigate Rasor’s involvement, both as an investor in a private company and with his own personal law firm, in five total applications to operate private parking stations during Arts, Beats & Eats. The applications have not been approved. City Attorney David Gillam said that he expected the attorney’s investigation would cost about $5,000.
“On Aug. 14, 2012, an anonymous letter was forwarded to all of the members of this City Commission,” Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello said. “This letter alleged inappropriate actions on the part of City Commissioner Jim Rasor with regard to Arts, Beats & Eats vehicle parking station operations.
“Within hours, a follow-up email was received by City Manager (Don) Johnson establishing that Mr. Rasor had applied for Arts, Beats & Eats parking station licenses for lots other than his own business. The question remains: Do these actions rise to the level of conflict of interest or unethical behavior, or are they just in poor taste?”
The Royal Oak Review received a hard copy of the same anonymous letter via mail. Postmarked Aug. 13, it had no return address, was directed to the City Commission and signed “A Royal Oak Volunteer.”
Allegations within the letter expressed shock that Rasor had applied to operate the former Fresard car dealership parking lot at 400 N. Main during the festival, a lot the anonymous volunteer said was previously run by a nonprofit group like their own. The letter suggests Rasor used inside information to gain access to the lot for profit.
“What I can tell you is that I have disclosed all business interests that I have had according to all of the rules under which we are governed,” Rasor said. “Moreover, I have complied with all the ethics ordinances that the city of Royal Oak has and I have not used any inside information gained at this table to enter into private business dealings with other private business entities or landowners in the city of Royal Oak. I welcome the investigation, or rather legal opinion, by qualified counsel to render (the opinion), and I would ask the bloggers and the public and all of the anonymous posters to withhold judgment until all of the facts are on the table.”
Some allegations in the anonymous letter missed the mark. During parking station ordinance amendment discussions at the City Commission’s May 21 and June 4 meetings, Rasor recused himself from voting on the issue and left the room, citing his involvement with one of the lots.
The amendment followed the May 21 decision that Park-Rite would take over parking for Arts, Beats & Eats after volunteer parking coordinators Jay and Patty Dunstan called it quits following two years in the unpaid, full-time position of coordinating various volunteer and nonprofit groups for the festival’s parking. The volunteer and nonprofit groups earned revenue from working the parking sites.
Local businesses, such as Rasor’s, are left to operate their own private business lots, while Park-Rite took over operations for all city lots.
Many city commissioners were concerned with whether Rasor violated any laws or the city’s ethics ordinance.
“With the ethics ordinance, I would also like to look into Arts, Beats & Eats as a whole,” Commissioner Peggy Goodwin said. “I would like to know if you’re benefiting financially, shouldn’t that mean you should abstain from voting for anything relating to that entity, to Arts, Beats & Eats, to a business you’re representing or anything like that.”
City Manager Don Johnson said five “defective” applications had not been approved for Rasor’s company.
“There are problems in each location. Some of the problems are correctable,” Johnson said. “As of right now, 36 have been approved, nine were denied, five are what we’re discussing today. The ones in question: the northern lot, which was formerly the Fresard dealership, has not had adequate plans submitted. The southern lot, which is a former storage lot that is located at Lincoln and the railroad tracks, is not paved.
“And the application related to the lot where Mr. Rasor’s business is, his Arts, Beats & Eats application has additional spaces on it that are not part of his regular license. There are spaces that are not on his own property and there are also spaces that are (in) somebody else’s application. We have two applicants applying for the same spaces.”
Since the applications were not approved, Mayor Jim Ellison doesn’t believe any laws were broken.
“We’re simply talking about a company making an application whose membership of that company has a city commissioner on it,” Ellison said. “I want to make that clear because there’s been speculation that we’ve already approved this.
“I don’t think any laws have been broken because the permit has not been issued. Technically, I don’t think anything is wrong. Ethically, we’d have to prove any inside information Mr. Rasor used as a city commissioner to foster this deal, and to see how that happened, and, if that happened, we have a problem.”
City Manager Don Johnson said 400 Main LLC, which owns the Fresard and Lincoln lots, contacted him Aug. 27 and offered both lots to the city for Arts, Beats & Eats parking use. That removes two of Rasor's five applications from consideration. However, that does not affect the investigation and the door is still open for Rasor's investor group to seek control of the two lots for long-term use after the festival. Johnson also said the fifth application, for Rasor's law firm's existing lot to be used during Arts, Beats & Eats, was expected to be approved in time for the festival after a few final documents are submitted.
Rasor was elected to the City Commission in November 2009, just five months after being the subject of an administrative hearing while acting as a Zoning Board of Appeals member.
A lawyer by day, he was suspected of acting improperly by representing Bordine’s Nursery as an attorney in front of the ZBA and the City Commission after the business failed in an attempt to set up a temporary sales site at 14 Mile and Coolidge, similar to what it had successfully done in 2008. He attempted to pre-settle a lawsuit with the city that Bordine’s had planned to file over its request being denied. It had been tabled in February and denied by the ZBA in March. Because he did not vote on the Bordine’s issues, the allegations were dismissed.
Results of the new investigation are expected in October.
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