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Ethics Mess Lowers Respect for Entire City Commission

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.

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.

Comment

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

R. Patterson September 25, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I appreciate the summary Mr. Versagi. It's sad how one person's trangression has negatively impacted the entire commission. I look at it this way: Rasor is the arsonist who initiated this fire. Capello tried to be the the lead firefighter who intitially started to put the fire out. Someone had to take the lead in that effort, and it was her. But somewhere down the line, instead of pouring a bucket of water on the issue, she instead tossed a bucket of gasoline on the flames. Ellison has exhibited very little leadership in the entire episode. He is content in running the meetings, and then going out for a beer with Rasor after the meetings, as they are usually spotted at the Rock on Third on Monday meeting nights. Poulton is a gawker of the fire. He is almost as inept as that former commissioner who barely spoke for 4 years. This has been a sad chapter in recent Royal Oak history. I suspect the investigation was supported by all, so they all could say did something about the Rasor ethics debacle. I don't expect much as a result of the investigation, other than this motley crew to say "all is well". Sad.
Terry G. September 25, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Anyone who sees Capello as a hero in this mess has never worked with her. As usual, when someone points their finger and makes the biggest fuss they can about something like someone else's ethics it's usually because they themselves are seriously lacking in that department. And let's not forget that this investigation over an application that was withdrawn will cost the city (us) approximately $5k. What a waste of time and money.
R. Patterson September 25, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I'm not sure there are any heroes. But I think Rasor's trangression was far worse than anything Capello did. I agree, the investigation expenditure is a waste of money.
CB September 25, 2012 at 08:13 PM
TRANSGRESSION RANKINGS (out of 10) Jerry Sandusky/Penn State pedophile allegations.........................10 Jim Rasor ethics breach/money grab................... .........................6 Pat Capello ethics grandstanding..................................................2 R. Patterson for misspelling transgression.....................................1/2
Ray Smith September 26, 2012 at 01:49 AM
CB, I love it!
Ray Smith September 26, 2012 at 01:54 AM
I agree about the $5,000. Between that and the recent survey (about $9,000) to see what RO residents "think" is a waste of money. If between public comment at the city commission meetings, the various blogs, newspaper articles and simply talking to people on the street, the city doesn't know what citizens think by now, something is wrong.
Debbie Campbell September 26, 2012 at 12:39 PM
How about disclosure of campaign contributions--a public statement at The Table before Commissioners vote? For example--when Fifth Avenue Bar came before the City Commission requesting to expand their plan of operation, Commissioners did NOT disclose during their discussion (before voting approval) that large sums of money had been contributed to their political campaigns during the recent City election by individuals associated with Fifth Avenue. In the last City election bar owners and their associates shoveled thousands of dollars into the political campaigns of Commission candidates---The bar Industry has rapidly expanded in RO since this new Commission was sworn into office—New Liquor Licenses and expansions have been approved by the Commission against recommendations from the Police Department, against the statement of purpose of the Liquor License Ordinance (to LIMIT the number of liquor licenses) and against the City’s adopted Master Plan which calls for a ‘balanced mix’ in the Downtown-- NOT an “entertainment/drinking district.” Now these same Commissioners vote to place a HUGE millage increase on the ballot to pay for additional police officers to patrol the “entertainment district” they continue to expand. Disclosure?
Debbie Campbell September 26, 2012 at 02:45 PM
The local Bar industry contributed thousands of dollars to the campaigns of City Commission candidates in the last City election , including campaign contributions from relatives, landlords and associates of those in Royal Oak’s liquor industry—Ronan you can’t possibly be disputing that fact… And what are you talking about? Of course Commissioner Capello’s campaign finance statement is on the site—All City Commission candidate statements can be found on the site- I would like City Commissioners to be required to state publicly—at The Table when the petitioner that is before them, asking for favors has contributed to their political campaign and I would like the Commissioner to be required to reveal the amount that was contributed-- either personally or via relatives, associates or legal representatives. And Mr. Ronan—The following comment was posted by another reader when you were making wild statements on a different article regarding the millage: “after checking records available to the public (and candidates), there is no Ted or Theodore Ronan registered to vote in Royal Oak. What community do you vote in? Actually, there is no Ronan's registered in Royal Oak.” So what’s your special interest in our City government Mr. Whoever you are?
E. Reyff September 26, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Check out Rasor's filings: http://courts.oakgov.com/cfrs/iCommitteePortal.php?iCommitteeID=9067 He has missed filings, been late in his filings, and has been penalized huge amounts of dollars for not following the campaign finance law. I am curious as to why Ted Ronan (who is not a registered voter in Royal Oak) isn't outraged at Mr. Rasor's campaign finance history. Rasor's filings indicate he is one of the largest (no pun intended) campaign finance law scafflows in the County. Ms. Campbell brings to light a very serious conflict for all the people sitting at the commission table. It just may be the reason why the bar district has been expanded over the years at the objection of every police chief had, and in conflict with the city's master plan, and liquor ordinance. Ronan (or whatever your name is), why not try to have an intelligent discussion on why the majority of the commission members have ignored or rejected the expert opinions of Chief Quisenberry, Jahnke, and O'Donahue, that the Royal Oak Police Department did not have the staffing to accomodate an ever expanding bar district over the last 10 years, and why the city commission continued to do so. I would suspect it has to do with money, starting with political contributions. Ronan, why isn't the city following it's own liquor ordinance?
E. Reyff September 26, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Here's Capello's. She has never been late, or fined, unlike Rasor. In some years, she has been granted a waiver for raising less than $1000, unlike Rasor's bloated (no pun intended) $18,000+ political cash grab in one year. http://courts.oakgov.com/cfrs/iCommitteeSearchProcess.php?strSearchBy=3&strCandidateLastName=mcewen&strCandidateFirstName=&iOfficeID=-1&iJurisdictionID=-1&cmdSubmit.x=48&cmdSubmit.y=10 In comparing the two filing histories, seems like Rasor has been influenced at a much higher level, especially by bar owners and developers, and people who live outside of Royal Oak than Capello. Actually, there is no comparison of who may be influenced by political contributions between the two. What city do you vote in Ronan? I vote in Royal Oak.
E. Reyff September 26, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I just proved it. I provided a link to her campaign filings. It is very common to have a "me too" clause in municipal labor agreements. The reason they have them, is so that the first union to settle isn't penalized by settling first. Otherwise, none of the unions would want to settle first. Ask any of the 7 members of the commission if this is true. They will confirm it. Call the city attorney, he will confirm it. The mayor will confirm that the city reconceeded concessions to all the other labor unions to get the agreements with the police and fire unions. As far as anyone else on this siyee using initials, or partial names, that is there perogative. But you have been exposed as trying to intentionally mislead others by using a full ficticious name. It's not surprising you are a Rasor defender.
E. reyff September 26, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Ronan, thanks for directing me to Rasor's campaign filings. Here is some osf the things I found: http://courts.oakgov.com/CFRS/IndexedDocs/700418.PDF He was fined $2000 (the max) for not reporting late contributions. The fine was more than what Capello raised in some of her camapigns. Note, that the letter is from Andy Meisner, who Rasor just recently hosted a political fundraiser for. How cozy. I actually reviewed many of the past and present campaign filings. Rasor's is by far the biggest mess. He has a number of warnings for not filing reports on time, failure to file notices, error and ommission letters, and not reporting late contibutions on time. He also sought a campaign filing waiver, which he wasn't qualified for. Doesn't he believe in transparency? I didn't make the claim of bar owners contributing to his campaign, but here is what I noted just from one 2009 filing: Dennis Cowan $300 who's lawfirm represented a number of downtown bars, Kelly Allen $250 who represents many of the bar petitioners, Jalal Zawaideh $250 who wanted a liquor license for the upstairs portion of the building where they have a pharmacy on S. Main, William Thomas $100 of Pronto's, and Craig Mangold $500 who was granted a liquor license connected to Holiday Market. That was on just one report.
E. reyff September 26, 2012 at 06:16 PM
What I also noted was the tremendous amount of money that was generated from outside of Royal Oak by contributers. That is always a red flag. Bottom line, Mr. Rasor's campaign filing history is not something to be proud of. Many of the other filings for other candidates never had a late note, a fine, or even an errors and ommissions letter. Their reporting was very clean. Mr. Rasor seemed to try to hide the identity of many individuals by collecting late contributions, and not properly identifying them before the election, as required by law. Candidates do that to keep the voters in the dark about who is really supporting them. I actually found Rasor's campaign filings and problems in following the campaign law disturbing, but consistant with the way he conducts business.
E. reyff September 26, 2012 at 06:18 PM
PS....I did note a tremendous amount of campaign contributions from bar owners/applicants to Fournier and Dubuc, and some to Goodwin in the last election.
E. reyff September 26, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Ronan, all you like to do is divert attention. Please comment on Mr. Rasor's sloppy campaign filings. Please comment on why the city doesn't follow its own liquor ordinance. You claimed Capello didn't file. A link was provided that she did. If one reviews Fournier's, Dubuc's and Goodwin's campaign filings, it shows thousands, yes, thousands of dollars were contributed by bar owners, and aspiring liquor license applicants. I think that supports what Ms Campbell claimed. As far as someone proving a "me too" clause in a contract. Go FOIA the contracts yourself, if the city doesn't want to be transparent and post them online. You can defend and deflect for the politicians like Rasor all you want, but more and more people are recognizing the way that these scoundrels are conducting business in this town, and they are going to just lay down and accept it anymore. I'm done wasting my time on you. Shhhhhhhh!
Mark Itall September 26, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Ted, Don't know if they still exist, but I can assure you there were "me too" clauses written into city employee contracts for health insurance and pensions back in the early 2000s. Those clauses had been there a long time.
Lisa September 26, 2012 at 08:24 PM
To Ted Ronan and Debbie Campbell --why are you changing the issue from the unethical behavior of Rasor to the campaign contributions that Dubuc, Fournier and Goodwin received? They did disclose their contributions as required in their reports which are public documents. I see Dubuc has the most out of city contributions, Fournier has residents, bars, attorneys, Emagine,and Arts Beats and Eats staff, Goodwin has residents, Hollywood staff and a bar. So? This is not hidden information.
Mark Itall September 26, 2012 at 09:47 PM
The "me too" clauses did exist in previous contracts for precisely the reasons Reyff states. And that is a fact. Do not know if they are still there.
Tom September 26, 2012 at 10:02 PM
The "in kind" food donations by the bar/restaurants is just the tip of the iceberg of Royal Oak's ethics problem. The one's on the finance reports are just the one's being reported. Rasor had a fundraiser at his home for Andy Meisner on the day of the Special meeting authorizing the investigation. Sangria's donated the food. Rasor set the "in kind" food deal up but doesn't have to report it. Maybe Meisner will on his campaign report, but Rasor sought out the favor. In the past, he had a political fundraiser at his law office for another candidate. The food was provided by Lockhardt's BBQ. Same set up. Rasor sets up the "in kind" food but doesn't have to report it. That's how these clowns exploit the system, and it's wrong. There are other examples of Rasor operating in this manner.
Lisa September 27, 2012 at 01:15 AM
You have a problem with someone reporting in-kind food contributions? That is exactly what they are supposed to do. It is up to the candidate to report the food donations to any fundraiser. You are out to protect someone who violated the ethics ordinance but accusing those who didn't. Nice trick, Ted Ronan.
Laura Harrison September 29, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Maybe more citizens of the city would run for public office if it was more about the qualifications and desires to help than the money. Just an observation.
J. Witowski September 29, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Debbie Campbell said: "The local Bar industry contributed thousands of dollars to the campaigns of City Commission candidates in the last City election , including campaign contributions from relatives, landlords and associates of those in Royal Oak’s liquor industry—Ronan you can’t possibly be disputing that fact… " She didn't single out any one individual. Ronan, you just proved her point. The fact of the matter is that many, on the city commission have been greatly financially supported (and influenced) by the bar industry in town, and that is the number one reason why the elected officials don't say "NO" when new applications for bars, or expansions on existing bars comes across their desks. Dubuc, Fournier, and Goodwin all received big money from stakeholders in Fifth Avenue in the last city election, and in the first meeting after they were seated, they all voted for Fifth Avenues request. That is what stinks!
Scott Warheit September 29, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Maybe more citizens of the city would run for public office if it was more about the qualifications and desires to help than the petty politics which lead to bogus campaign finance complaints being filed to get headlines in the local newspapers, understanding fully that when the complaint is later dismissed as completely without merit, it won't get covered at all. Not that anyone would ever actually do that in this city of course. What also doesn't get covered is how not-a-problem these bars and restaurants actually are. Red Fox English Pub above Diablo's was going to be such a problem that their opening was delayed almost a year. It's been a great addition to the downtown with no problems. Fifth Avenue runs a great establishment. They've spent thousands (if not significantly more) to renovate the place, and they go out of their way to open their doors to local charitable causes. It's all about the operators and if they care about the city and the kind of business they run. Have there been any problems at Gemmayze (which was forced to spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an in-city liquor license after they were turned down by the city the first time)? At Lockhart's BBQ? Guess none of that matters. -Scott
Terry G. September 30, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Well said, Scott. And spot on regarding what has happened and the intent behind it. I'd love to see more business people involved in the commission but they don't have time for the petty scheming it apparently takes to be involved.
Terry G. September 30, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Scott W. - I just realized why you were so spot on!
Ray Smith September 30, 2012 at 10:04 PM
I agree with Scott. Most of the new liquor licenses have actually been restaurants that want to offer customers a drink with their meal--places like Gemmayze and Lockharts. Also, I don't belive that most of the trouble-making drinkers go to these places to get their buzz, but prefer the likes of 5th Avenue, Woody's, etc.,

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