Two Royal Oak City Commissioners Received More Than Half Their Campaign Contributions From Financial Interests Suing the City
The eight entities who are suing the city of Royal Oak over its civic center development were responsible for more than 60 percent of the 2017 campaign support for city commissioners Randy Levasseur and Kim Gibbs who, since elected, have voted almost 100 percent against all elements of the development.
Those litigants are eight of 10 contributors to a state super PAC, Citizens for a Responsible Royal Oak, which spent more than $42,000 on behalf of Levasseur, Gibbs and two other, unsuccessful, candidates in 2017. In June, 2018, the Michigan Secretary of State Elections Division found the PAC in violation of campaign finance laws for illegally coordinating with candidates. The PAC acknowledged the violation when it paid a fine in 2018.
Royal Oak local attorney Pete Webster contributed to the PAC but is not part of the lawsuit.
Levasseur and Gibbs support the coalition, arguably violating the duties of their office. Those commissioners have voted against every commission motion about the project, even the most benign. For example: The Farmer’s Market site is composed of multiple discrete pieces of property, assembled over time. One small section was an easement which never was vacated. Vacating it was sensible even without the development yet both voted against it.
Local landlord Donald Nahat heads three of the entities suing the city and is the landlord to at least one of the PAC donors.
In 2017, the city commission voted to sell bonds to finance its share of the civic center project. Consultants advised the city to delay the sale until the city started getting favorable judgements in the lawsuits against it. It sold the bonds in April, 2018. According to management representatives at Plante Moran Cressa, the delay increased construction costs by three to five percent, or between $1.89 million and $3.15 million.
In 2017, Nahat entered into a no-bid development agreement with the city, seeking an even exchange for a property he owned at Third Street and Knowles, south of the 44th District Court, with the city-owned parking lot on the northwest corner of Williams and Fourth streets. When the city concluded that the two parcels were of unequal value and that Nahat’s proposal did not meet the city’s requirement that the site include public parking the agreement ended.
Charles Semchena is a former city commissioner who has appeared as a spokesperson for a group called the Take Back Royal Oak Coalition, which he positions as a grassroots organization. He conveniently doesn’t mention that its members are the people who are suing the city and that Donald Nahat is his client.
The lawsuit has failed at every step of the way, in circuit court and on appeal, with judges ruling that the litigants did not have standing to bring suit. Experts estimate that the litigants have spent as much as $500,000 in legal fees, leaving observers to wonder why; what benefit they might derive from their continued legal action.