Rasor, Capello address heated commission happenings
February 1, 2013
ROYAL OAK — Select issues at recent City Commission meetings have drawn unfriendly fire between some commissioners, but the root of some of those arguments are reportedly the result of “sour grapes” from past events, including the past two City Commission elections.
Among other things, Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Capello initially proposed a recent investigation into Commissioner Jim Rasor’s private business affairs potentially competing with the city, after an anonymous letter was received. Shortly after, Capello proposed an impromptu ethics pledge for the entire City Commission to recite prior to each meeting.
Rasor contends that there is a crusade of current and former commissioners and residents who are against him and a few other commissioners close to him, while Capello insists everything is strictly business on her end.
“I can’t tell you how appalled I am at the petty political games being played by Capello and her faction,” Rasor said. “All of these people are unhappy with (Commissioners Mike Fournier, Kyle DuBuc, Mayor Jim Ellison and me) because we represent a new direction for the city.”
A legal opinion by local attorney and former Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Bill Hampton recently found Rasor was not in violation of the city’s ethics ordinance because he pulled out of an Arts, Beats & Eats parking lot-use deal last summer, before the appropriate paperwork was filed.
“There’s nothing personal. There’s no personal animosity. There was an ethics issue,” Capello said of launching the investigation. “I’m not about to tolerate ethics missteps. I did what I think any commissioner would have done to call an investigation. I understand he may have some animosity. He brought it on himself.”
Capello noted that the commission voted 7-0 to conduct the investigation, including Rasor’s support.
Also the subject of an investigation in 2009 as a Zoning Board of Appeals member five months before both he and Capello were elected to the City Commission in November 2009, Rasor has dealt with multiple anonymous letters sent to the City Commission, city staff and local media outlets attempting to discredit his actions.
“This is sour grapes from losing the election,” Rasor said, noting he believed the letters have come from several failed City Commission candidates. “I’m proud of my record in this community.”
All of the anonymous letters about Rasor have alleged wrongdoing based on either his full-time job as a Royal Oak-based attorney or his role as an investor in private business groups. He said some of the letters “mischaracterized” his work and “lied about that Royal Oak was affected by anything that was said and done.”
“This just casts a huge shadow over the whole commission. Some of us didn’t have a clue,” Capello said of the Arts, Beats & Eats parking incident. “There is no one-on-one from my perspective. For me, this is nothing more than business for me.”
Rasor took Capello’s impromptu ethics pledge proposal as a further dig at him during the investigation.
While many commissioners did not enjoy the impromptu nature of the proposal or language of the proposal, others also questioned the timing of such a proposal during an internal investigation or took personal exception to it, saying it was akin to stating, “I am not a crook,” at the start of each meeting.
Capello said she didn’t expect it to be a big deal, noting that people don’t consider the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each meeting as stating they are not traitors.
“We don’t take it because we’re afraid of being called traitors,” Capello said. “I had no idea that people would look at it so viciously. It clearly struck a nerve. People’s reactions, I’m not the best at gauging them.”
The heated discussion that followed took a few ugly turns before the commission sent it to City Attorney David Gillam for consideration. He determined that requiring the commissioners to take the pledge would be unconstitutional. However, without the stipulation of a requirement, commissioners could voluntarily recite the ethics pledge if they chose to do so individually. The Rules Committee is currently considering how some aspects of the pledge could be worked into updating the city’s ethics ordinance.
“A heated debate, to me, is part of doing your job. The issue is not the heated debate; the issue is keeping it businesslike,” Capello said in reference to past meetings that have turned ugly and gotten personal with name-calling. “I try very hard not to ever do that. Even if I were emotional, I would not stoop to name-calling and using inflammatory words. I don’t scream, I don’t yell, I don’t name-call.”
Rasor said the efforts from himself, Ellison, DuBuc and Fournier in 2012 were vital to the city settling multiple union contracts with cost savings, making it possible to pass the public safety millage in November. He also said they are discussing the reality of a potential downtown central park, amphitheater, splash pad, ice rink and community pool a few years down the road without cost to taxpayers.
“(Capello) micromanages to the extent that she is ineffective in making those big decisions,” Rasor said. “I don’t want to attack in these attack-style partisan politics. I want to move forward.”
Old flames, big commitments
Rasor said the fuse for the fire was lit years ago. After a temporary liquor license transfer ban failed in 2009, several of those supporters — including Capello and several former city commissioners — came together to petition against City Commission candidates DuBuc, Fournier and Scott Warheit in November 2011, after they were endorsed by mailers from a Lansing-based company that had previously supported Rasor and current County Commissioner David Woodward. At the same time, there were questions about undisclosed campaign funding, robotic calls slandering candidate Peggy Goodwin and phone polling.
DuBuc, Fournier and Goodwin went on to be elected in November 2011. George Gomez, Richard Karlowski and Bill Shaw were also City Commission candidates in 2011, along with Warheit, who continues to serve on five of the city’s 34 committees and boards, according to Rasor.
At the City Commission’s Jan. 28 meeting, after press deadline, the commission was to discuss the potential of limiting the number of committees a single individual can serve on. Capello made the suggestion at the Jan. 7 meeting, noting last week that she, at one point, served on eight committees as a city commissioner when no other commissioners volunteered to serve.
“No one should ever be on eight committees. You do a disservice to yourself,” Capello said. “If my colleagues don’t want to impose a limit, it’s not a big deal. There’s nothing critical here.”
Capello said she would like to see a limitation set at three terms of three years apiece for incoming committee volunteers, meaning a nine-year limit that a new individual could spend on any one committee, with exceptions for those with specific expertise critical to the committee’s success.
“I’m not suggesting we take any action against current committees. I don’t want to see someone overextended,” Capello said. “I do think we should open up the opportunity to serve to as many people as we can.”
Both Rasor and Capello said they want to move forward in the best interests of the city, but only time will tell if the fire is being smothered.
The next City Commission meeting is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at City Hall, 211 S. Williams.
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