Royal Oak is facing change on Nov. 5. Not only is the city facing the weight of a vote on an inclusive Human Rights Ordinance, they are losing a strong gay city commissioner and deciding on which of four candidates will best fill three open seats.
Jim Rasor has served on the City Commission for almost four years, and was involved with the zoning board before that. His exit from public office is not for lack of love, but because his business is growing so quickly that he said he could no longer justify the amount of time away that being an elected official requires.
Rasor owns the Rasor Law firm, which handles a variety of cases including personal injury, civil rights, family law including same sex issues, criminal defense and bankruptcy. “It started with myself and a secretary in 1994. Now we’re up to a dozen attorneys, plus support staff. It’s really a powerhouse. We’re trying significant cases across the state and we’re winning,” Rasor said. “It would not be fair to my staff or to my clients not to give them my full attention.”
In the four years Rasor served on the Commission, he was part of a team that did quite a bit to move Royal Oak forward. “We faced the fiscal cliff, we negotiated with our unions and cut the cost of government, and I have to give appreciation to our team. This was a team and we really nailed it,” Rasor said.
“I think one of the biggest things we accomplished is that the City is really well-run. The nice thing about bringing a business background was that it was valuable to the commission. As a business owner I’m used to making changes quickly. Public bodies work in a very methodical way.
“One of the things I’m proudest about is with my urging, and my team’s urging, we’re combining all development departments to one floor and one director. It can be very disjointed, just because of the physical layout and because the different departments have different leaders. You might go to three or four different people and get different answers,” he said. By restructuring the chain of command, and the physical layout of the building, Rasor hopes to make it easier to do business in City Hall.
Also in the spirit of improving efficiency, the City Commission eliminated several subcommittees. “We voted to abolish the Hotel/Motel Commission and got rid of other city boards. It’s better to deal with these things right at the Commission. The Boards can only give opinions anyway, and with a lot of that we would be sifting through all the information twice. It was very duplicitous.”
Another more visible change is in the works. “The other thing I’m really proud of is the Master Plan and the creation of a downtown park. We used to have a nice park that we paved over for parking. We just received funding from Arts, Beats and Eats to the Roots Planning Commission for park planning. It’s planned to have a pavilion, maybe an ice skating rink. We’ve purchased an office building to demolish for parking.”
Human Rights Ordinance
And of course a notable change brought about by Rasor and his fellow elected officials is the Human Rights Ordinance, which is precariously waiting for voter approval on Nov. 5.
“Everybody in Royal Oak must make it a point to go out and vote for Prop. A,” he said. “It’s important from a perspective of living in a good community. A very organized and vocal minority wants this to fail. In a municipal election they’re counting on people not to vote. We expect that 9,000 people will vote. And if people don’t exercise their right to vote, they’re going to wake up the day after the election and realize the Tea Party has won in Royal Oak.”
Proposal A would give the city an inclusive human rights ordinance that protects LGBT people and others from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Rasor explained that it’s important for establishing equal rights, but that it also helps with economic development and promoting Royal Oak to potential visitors, business owners and homebuyers.
“My sense is that the forces against it are very well organized and well-funded. Royal Oak is an important community because if they win they can use it as leverage to stop an amendment to the state’s civil rights law,” Rasor said. “The cool thing about the opposition though is they are so entrenched in their need to discriminate that they demonstrate the best argument for needing an ordinance.”
Another important thing for voters to look at is who will be replacing Rasor on the City Commission. There are three open seats and four people running.
For those who make their decisions based on LGBT issues, there are two pro-equality candidates: Jeremy Mahrle and Sharlan Douglas.
Incumbent David Poulton voted against the Human Rights Ordinance because he believed that the public should vote on it.
Candidate Diane Hargan opposes the Human Rights Ordinance, publically speaking out against it in Commission meetings and online.
“David Poulton is the incumbent and I think he will be elected again. I support him and we’ve worked together on many things. I am disappointed that he did not come out in favor of the human rights ordinance, but he really believed that the voters should decide,” Rasor said.
He endorses Mahrle and Douglas stating, “I served with both of them on the Planning Commission. They are smart, well-reasoned people and dedicated public servants.”
Rasor said that he would remain involved in advocating for his city and helping on projects that he has an interest in. He looks forward to being fully invested in his work and free to do more in terms of what is right for his business.
“Not being on the Commission will give me flexibility. People are very quick to question public officials and interests, especially when a public official is a business owner,” he said. “You can’t please people all the time and when you’re in the public scene that is just something you have to live with. It doesn’t matter how much you disclose, people still will have their conspiracy theories.”
Moving forward he is happy with the work he and fellow Commissioners did, and is confident in the next round of civic leaders. “We’re leaving the city in great hands,” he said.