The flow of events
The cast of characters in Act 2 of this 4-act CITCOM drama includes two stars -- Jim Rasor and Pat Capello -- and two supporting actors -- Jim Ellison and Peggy Goodwin. Spear-carriers on stage are Kyle DuBuc, Mike Fournier, and David Poulton.
Rasor's reach to benefit financially from the confusion over control of parking sites during Arts, Beats & Eats started it all. Rumors rippling through City Hall and a widely distributed anonymous letter brought his move to public attention and much hubbub ensued. The basic issue: Because he is a city commissioner, was his attempt to compete with the City for parking revenue a conflict of interest or at least an ethical lapse?
A Special Meeting of CITCOM was called. At that meeting:
- Capello initiated a motion, passed unanimously, to establish an independent investigation of Rasor's behavior. (Some supporters and some opponents of Rasor later complained that he voted on the motion or that he had been allowed to vote.)
- Capello's proposed resolution specified that "each person at this table be questioned to establish when he or she learned of this issue, and what, if anything, he or she did about it."
- City Manager Don Johnson reported that 36 parking applications had been approved by Planning, four of which had problems with signs. Nine applications had been denied. (The denial of renewal for some 2011 permits had earlier raised a bit of a stink.)
- Ellison pointed out that since Rasor's applications had not yet been approved, there was no conflict of interest.
During these early days, Rasor -- in the press and in reported conversations -- maintained that he sees neither legal nor ethical problems in his behavior. At least once he suggested that the City should not be competing with the private sector.
There the situation might have rested. The issue had been identified. An independent investigation had been authorized. Expectation was that a report will be released in October.
BUT, at the 10 September CITCOM meeting, Ellison allowed Capello, without the procedurally required prior notice, to add an item to the Agenda. She introduced an Ethics Pledge which she herself took, and she asked the body to resolve that every elected official take the pledge before each meeting. (The pledge contains 186 words. At the typical speaking speed of about 140 words per minute, that comes to 80 seconds, just over 1 minute. For comparison: The Pledge of Allegiance contains 28 words. Recited at a respectful 120 words per minute, it takes 23 seconds.)
Sputtering anger broke out. DuBuc expressed dismay that Capello wants each elected official to stand up at each meeting and swear, "I am not a crook." Ellison, obviously regretting his permissiveness in allowing the item on the agenda, agreed that the suggestion is offensive. Rasor erupted with talk of Salem witch trials and the KKK. That caused Goodwin to rise to Capello's defense, praising her for bringing the ethics issue forward and condemning Rasor's Salem/KKK pitch.
But by now the well was poisoned. The meeting's mood turned sour. Around midnight, the seething Rasor took issue with the routine matter of appointments, either unintentionally or flagrantly making it clear he considered the Appointments Committee had been incompetent and had sinned for not choosing his favorite -- a Levin aide and fellow-Democrat -- for the position.
The next CITCOM meeting, following after only one week because of the Labor Day break, was subdued, with only a hint here or there of animosity disguised as concern over the relative power of CITCOM and the Planning Commission, on which Rasor and Ellison sit.
There the matter should remain until we receive the report from the independent investigator. Strangely, for something this important, the name of the investigating individual or entity has not been announced.
Whatever the investigation concludes, I suspect it won't affect the vote on the proposed millage. The tiny crowds which gather for town halls and the like mean that people know the pro and con arguments and have already made up their mind.
I suspect there are very few "undecideds" out there.
For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost. For one commissioner's questionable behavior, respect for Royal Oak's City Commission has dropped very low.
Three developments have caused that drop. First, there is what many see as the flagrant display of partisan power, not only at The Table but also in street talk. Second, there is Rasor's self-serving split of his functional role in two -- as city commissioner and as private sector entrepreneur. Third, we have Capello's introduction of an Ethics Pledge so excessively detailed that only an intellectual eunuch would qualify for elected office.
As Versagi Voice has reported and commented before, Rasor's friends and critics agree that by temperament "Jim Rasor is all about Jim Rasor," putting himself first even when he's being productive and helpful and innovative. So, it probably never occurred to Jim that there might be something questionable about his using his position as commissioner to gain advantage. Indeed, he maintains that he didn't use his position. (For this page let's concentrate on the parking squabble, not about his involvement or not with potential developers.) Pushed, he maintains he was not in violation of any legal precept as he sought to acquire parking sites, using newly acquired legal entities.
True, a few years ago I supported Rasor during a ZBA-related charge of conflict of interest. But this time Rasor's behavior doesn't pass the ethical smell test.
Ellison would have been criticized had he not permitted Capello to add her item to the agenda, even though that would have been the right thing to do. Given the gut-level anger he must have shared with most of his colleagues at The Table, he conducted a fair meeting, with only an occasional gibe at Capello.
That brings us to Pat Capello's uncharacteristic over-the-top performance. Pat is a nit-picker but not a grandstander. She had won the battle of bringing the Rasor matter into the legal/political arena. The investigation she had called for was under way. Short of her experiencing some personal/family trauma, it is difficult to explain her lack of judgment, both at bringing up that extreme pledge and how and when she brought it up.
A stickler for protocol and procedure, she violated both by introducing her topic without prior notice then insisting it be acted upon the same night. A clear thinker, even if excessively detail-oriented, she composed such a long list of irrational and unworkable of conditions/qualification that the term "intellectual eunuch" occurred to me as I listened to her take her own pledge.
And Pat is a realist. She knows a) that the commissioner's and mayor's oath of office, together with the city's Ethics Ordinance covers everything which needs to be covered and b) that a person who habitually pushes the boundaries, will push any new boundaries.
She comes from the business world. She must have experienced the uselessness of writing a new policy to solve a problem which was caused by a person, not by a policy.
The water is poisoned. Residents are tangibly concerned about whether this ethics mess will wipe out any remaining collegial effectiveness among the elected officials.
At the very least, everybody at The Table should avoid mentioning or alluding to the Ethics brouhaha until the investigator's report arrives.
Resident-reaction as revealed in posts, emails, and phone calls can be easily summarized:
- Both Rasor and Capello are separately praised and criticized. Comments about Rasor far outnumber those about Capello.
- Rasor's admirers are heard from, but most comments re Razor are negative, with many demanding he either resign or be recalled.
- Comments about Capello tend to express puzzlement and disappointment, although a handful have-at her with the same vigor as Rasor's critics go after him. A few suggest she was grandstanding. One Versagi Voice reader called to ask me to suggest to Pat that she run for mayor.
- A very small number see no reason why elected officials would object to taking such a pledge every time they meet.
- A small but fierce minority of callers/bloggers/emailers combines their disillusionment with the partisan majority and the Rasor -Capello mess to conclude it would be nice if we could simultaneously recall the whole bunch. "Off with all their heads!"
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.