Friday, January 18, 2008
Casino approval is critical to turn around of local economy
by Cliff Schrader
Much of St. Clair County Administrator Shaun Groden's "State of the County" presentation was very positive, but the county's still in an economic downturn.
There has been a five-fold increase in residential foreclosures in the past several years - more than 1,000 in 2007, with an anticipated new record for 2008. We are facing high unemployment and growing business closures.
It will be a very long and painful climb back, unless we land a massive economic score with a proven track record. We need something that can pull us out of this economic abyss quickly.
Forget the spin and wishful thinking. The only real hope is the Thomas Edison Inn Casino project and its promised 3,000 to 4,000 jobs.
Within the next three weeks, the proposed casino is headed back to the table with a new hearing date before the House Natural Resources Committee. As you recall, back in November, Port Huron and the Bay Mills Indian Community were blindsided when Washington's version of the Good Old Boys pulled strings in a backroom deal that saw House Bill 2176 yanked from the subcommittee the night before its hearing.
If there are no further middle-of-the night deals, the next step toward congressional approval of the Bay Mills land-claim settlement (and Port Huron's casino) should proceed in an orderly way, but don't count on it.
Several years ago, Port Huron voters supported a statewide ballot proposal for casino developments in Detroit. The Motor City was in terrible financial shape. It watched millions of dollars flow across the border to Canada's Windsor casino every day. Port Huron suffers a similar plight with regard to Pointe Edward's casino.
Yet, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is the first to lead the attack against Port Huron's casino hopes. Has he no shame?
After the House committee hearing in early February, HR 2176 will move to the full House. Under the chamber's rules, it will linger for at least eight days before going to the floor for a vote. If approved, it then goes to the Senate for assignment to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
As in the House, the Senate committee's chairman has the option of waiving the hearing requirement or assigning it to a subcommittee hearing before a full Senate vote. The bill could take several weeks before receiving that final vote.
As you can see, this is a legislative process laden with more deadly obstacles than even Indiana Jones could face. Through it, Port Huron's enemies will stop at nothing. They will add millions more dollars to the tens of millions they already spread around to scuttle this city's casino.
Meanwhile, Detroit's three casinos set another new record - collecting $1.34 billion in 2007 - their seventh-consecutive annual earnings record.
What can congressional members be thinking? Will they let the economies of Port Huron and St. Clair County collapse while casinos in Canada, Detroit and other Michigan cities reap profits beyond belief?
Cliff Schrader is a radio columnist on WGRT-FM 102.3. His Friday columns are part of a cooperative agreement between the radio station and the Times Herald. His opinions are his own and not those of the Times Herald or WGRT.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Get ready for Motor City Casino’s Red Wings Charity Poker Tournament.
Fans can face off against players, as the Detroit Red Wings ante up for charity.
It’s Monday, March 3rd.
For a $500 donation to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, you can try your hand and test your nerves going head-to-head with Red Wings players!
Prizes will be awarded to the top three finishers, including a grand prize trip for two with the team to an away game on Red Bird II during the 2007-08 season. Second place will receive a suite for a Red Wings home game during the 2007-08 regular season. Third place will receive four tickets to a Detroit Red Wings regular season game, including a meet & greet session with select players following the game.
A limited number of participant spots are available by calling the Detroit Red Wings season tickets office at (313) 396-7575. Table sponsorships are also available.
All proceeds will benefit The Detroit Red Wings Foundation. The goal of the Detroit Red Wings Foundation is to satisfy the unique needs of our community through the sport of hockey.
'A false land claim'
Larry Rosenthal, a Flint native and a consultant for the Saginaw Chippewa, noted the tribal land claims in Charlotte Beach have been rejected in both federal and state courts.
"The legislation is predicated by a false land claim," he said. "They're using it simply to circumvent the 1993 gaming compact for Michigan."
As part of the 1993 compact, Michigan's 12 federally recognized tribes agreed they would not participate in off-reservation gaming. A tribe cannot legally open a casino outside its ancestral lands without approval from the other 11 tribes. That's one reason why skeptics question the legitimacy of a casino proposal in Kimball Township.
Rosenthal criticized the Sault for hypocrisy. When Bay Mills made its deal with Engler in August 2002, the Sault derided the land swap as patently illegal. The tribe then turned around and made its own deal with Engler on Dec. 30, 2002, the day before he left office.
"Even the Sault tribe has opined in the past that a land claim doesn't exist," Rosenthal said.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Monday, January 14, 2008
By David Bell
The Interior Department has said no to a second Chemehuevi casino in Barstow, Calif., but city and tribal leaders are saying the fight isn't over. Barstow officials say they will not allow the issue of off-reservations casinos to die.
In letters dated Jan. 4, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman notified the Chemehuevi, Big Lagoon Rancheria and Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indian tribes that the tribes' fee-to-trust applications for land in Barstow was rejected.
And because the land would not then be considered part of the reservation, it could not qualify as a site for a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Ron Rector, acting City Manager and Director of Economic Development and Redevelopment for the city, said Barstow is reviewing its options and a response will be forthcoming.
"We believe the decision by the (Interior Department) Secretary was just to set a policy," Rector said. "It's a slap in the face of us and the governor."
"We worked with all three tribes for over five years, followed all rules established by Congress and did it all in good faith," Rector said. "We're very disappointed in the Secretary's decision."
But Barstow residents may not share that feeling. Online reader's comments to the Barstow Desert Dispatch story on the Interior Department decision are negative on the issue of Native American casinos.
"This is good news to all Barstonians," wrote the poster identified as "Yipee," while "John" wrote "Barstow doesn't need a casino the council should concentrate on trying to get businesses that are worthwhile Revitalize main street its looking like a ghost town."
Rector said the two casino proposals, the Big Lagoons and Los Coyotes, were partnering on a 40-acre casino project. This would have provided the economic boost the Web poster is looking for.
"The initial investment was about $175 million with 2,000 jobs and $50 million in payroll," Rector said. "There would be indirect expenditures of well over $30 million, and our agreement had us (the city) receiving 4.3 percent of gaming revenue for Class-3 slot machines. We anticipated that at $7 million to $10 million per year."
Chemehuevi Chairman Charles Wood previously said the tribe was looking at options the tribe could take to keep the casino project moving forward.
"Those options include responding with comments to the concerns in the letter, the appeals process and resubmission. Others (tribes) are threatening to sue. I'm not saying we would, but I would hope it wouldn’t come to that," Wood said.
Wood also said the Interior Department failed to recognize the Chemehuevis claim of ancestral ties to the area, the major factor in placing land in trust for a tribe.
"Right now we're in discussions on what will be the right course of action," Rector said. "There will be action taken by the City of Barstow."
In 2003, the Chemehuevi and Los Coyotes tribes approached the Barstow City Council about establishing off-reservation casinos. The city entered into a municipal-services agreement with the Los Coyotes in 2004 that, in 2005, announced plans to partner with the Big Lagoon tribe. Later that same year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced approval of a gaming compact between the state and the Los Coyotes and Big Lagoons.
Meanwhile in 2005 the Chemehuevi tribe negotiated a municipal-service agreement with the City of Barstow.
On Feb. 16, 2006 the Chemehuevi tribe submitted the application to acquire in trust a 40-acre parcel of Barstow land and one month later the Big Lagoon tribe and Los Coyotes submitted an application.
Last year Schwarzenegger and the Los Coyotes and Big Lagoons agreed to allow the gaming compact to expire, as it had yet to obtain passage by the state legislature.
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New allegations of Brown Act violations by Barstow's Council; latest revelation also related to $15 million sewer treatment contract
Council dinner may have violated Brown Act, group says
Four members met socially with firm they later awarded contract
By Jason Smith, staff writer
While attending the California League of Cities Conference in Sacramento in early September, council members attended a private dinner paid for by consulting firm Bureau Veritas.
Council members and representatives of the company said the dinner was an strictly an introduction to the firm and no city business was discussed. Still, because a voting majority of council members was present and the event was not publicly posted beforehand, it could potentially be a violation of the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a group advocating open government.
“Where you have a dinner attended by a majority of the City Council as well as the city’s redevelopment director, in my mind that can only be interpreted as city business as indeed here where the company got the business a month later,” Francke said.
He said that the Brown Act allows for a majority of council members to attend certain purely ceremonial or social events, but this case did not qualify.
“There may be situations where the entire council or school board may be invited to a ribbon cutting or groundbreaking,” he said “The word ‘purely’ in that phrasing really demands in my view that these be situations which in no sense is city business being discussed.”
He said that he felt the issue was not that the consultant paid for the meal or was later awarded a $34,000 contract, but that members of the public weren’t aware what was going on.
“I guess the bottom line is that under the Brown Act, companies wishing to make a collective presentation should do so out in the open and shouldn’t be able to essentially buy a private audience by paying for the dinner,” he said. “If that were the case than anyone who wanted the council to go a certain way on something could just take them out to dinner.”
Other groups said they could see where the paid dinner could be perceived as a potential conflict of interest.
“The appropriate thing to do would be for the city council to pay for the dinner,” said Bob Stern, President of the Center for Governmental Studies. “That would remove the perception of influence buying.”
He said that consultants and lobbying groups frequently host events for attendees at municipal conferences as a way to network.
“There’s a lot of wining and dining going on, but it’s usually for a larger group not just a City Council,” he said.
Frank Vanella, deputy district attorney with the county’s Public Integrity Unit, declined to directly address the dinner, but agreed with the statement of City Attorney Yvette Abich that the gatherings are allowed if they are strictly social.
“Generally speaking City Council members can go to dinner with whomever they want as long no city business as discussed,” he said. “They’re free to go to any event, private or public event. They’re free to socialize with whomever they like as long as city business as not discussed.”
Council member Joe Gomez who did not attend that dinner said he was uncomfortable with the idea of a majority of the council and staff members meeting in a private session even if the event was social.
“My concern is I don’t know what they discussed so I don’t know how they came to the decision,” he said. “If the city’s paid for them to go to the conference, that’s all they should be doing.”
Council members who attended the dinner said that the invitations came while they were at the conference and the event was not pre-planned.
“It was a social dinner, it was nothing about their company or the city,” said Council Member Steve Curran. “How can you agendize a conference out of town?”
Curran said that Bureau Veritas was chosen for the consulting job over another engineering firm and a law firm because it was the lowest bidder for the project.
On Oct. 4, the council unanimously chose to award the contract to Bureau Veritas although city staff had initially recommended that the city award the contract to the Willdan firm.
“In my looking at the proposals, firm Bureau Veritas appears to be the best whether it’s low or not,” said Mayor Lawrence Dale. “It appears they have a better understanding of the project regardless of what the other two show.” Abich, the city attorney, also recommended the contract be awarded to Bureau Veritas due to fears that the other consulting firm would require additional costs.
“My concern is the amount (Willdan) proposed is actually possibly more than they’ve quoted because a lot of the things they assumed have happened haven’t happened,” she said.
On Jan 7, the council voted 4 to 1 to approve a new contract with Bureau Veritas for up to $160,000. The firm will review the qualifications and proposals of interested firms for the wastewater project and help the city choose a contractor for the project.
The dinner with Bureau Veritas is not the first time concerns have been raised over council members potentially violating the Brown Act. Also during the League of California Cities Conference on Sept. 6., four council members met with Cynthia Bryant, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, who handles Indian gaming issues, to discuss the issues holding back Barstow casino compacts. A complaint was filed with the district attorney’s office that the meeting violating the Brown Act. No determination has been made in that case, the district attorney said.
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