March 18, 2014 was a “two-fer” in terms of council workshops. The morning session focused on the budget: General Fund budget balancing; Employee medical benefits; and fire staffing. The afternoon city council workshop also had 3 items of discussion: the Becker billboard request; a possible archery range at Heroes Park at 83rd and Bethany; and the Tohono O’odham casino.

I am going to discuss only one of those items here and now – the proposed Tohono O’odham (TO) casino. All of the other items will be covered in a subsequent blog.

In a prior meeting Vice Mayor Knaack requested an assessment of the impact of the proposed casino on the city and during the day’s discussion reminded staff of her original request that: staff (City Attorney Michael Bailey) bring back an assessment of the impact (fiscal and otherwise) of this proposed casino on Glendale; and that staff meet not only with the TO but with the tribes in opposition to the casino. Was Bailey too busy with his tablet and smart phone to pay attention because he fulfilled none of Vice Mayor Knaack’s request? He simply regurgitated former City Attorney Craig Tindall’s well-researched legal opinion on the matter. His actions could be construed as those of someone who is lazy and ill informed. He did not provide this council with Knaack’s original request: that of an assessment of the impact on the city.

Somehow or other the council discussion, at Councilmember Alvarez’ instigation (in person no less), moved to negotiating directly with the TO and opposing Franks’ bill. Chavira and Hugh immediately expressed their support. Mayor Weiers and Councilmembers Martinez and Knaack voiced their dissent. None of this was a vote, as council does not vote at workshop, but gives direction to staff through a majority support to move forward to investigate, plan and bring back information to be voted on in a council meeting.

Four councilmembers (a majority) gave direction to initiate negotiations with the TO and to express the city’s opposition to Congressional Representative Trent Franks’ bill, HR 1410. To what end no one knows because there are still lawsuits to be settled that will determine the proposed casino’s fate.

Councilmember Martinez, in opposition, quoted from a very eloquent article written by former Governor Rhodes of the Gila River Indian Community in the Arizona Republic on October 20, 2010.. The former Governor said, “There’s no literal translation in English that does justice to the tribal word, ‘himdag.’ As Governor of the Gila River Indian Community, himdag guides my every decision, my every action. Himdag, as passed down by our elders across hundreds of years, teaches us to respect for all things, including the value of a promise, abiding by the law and concern for the welfare of others.

Respect as a guiding principle feels old-fashioned in the 21st century, but it exists all the same – even when our community is compelled to sign its name to a lawsuit against the United States Department of the Interior.

You may have read about that lawsuit filed Spt. 16. You may have also read about Glendale’s lawsuit to stop the casino, filed this week. Out of respect, I believe that I must explain the reasons why my community to pointedly disagrees with Washington and with a southern Arizona sister tribe’s plan to build a casino on land they secretly bought in Glendale, 160 miles from their reservation headquarters.

My explanation can be summed up in a single sentence. We believe the TO Nation, with the assistance of the federal government, has disrespected the rule of law, the balance so carefully struck among Indian gaming tribes, our community, Glendale and every Arizonan.

At the crux of our lawsuit is clear evidence that the proper procedure for creating an Indian casino has been sidestepped. I’ll leave the legal wrangling to the lawyers, bit in the 21 months since our sister tribe surprised us with plans to build a casino on our aboriginal lands, our community has learned more than we would care to about legal loopholes, PR spin and shading the truth. The surprises have continues to come, and so have the disappointments especially where our sister tribe is concerned.

In the past, my community and the TO Nation have lived side by side and mutually benefited from our entwined cultures and interests. There’s no better example than the Indian gaming compacts ratified by Arizona voters in 2002. Proposition 202, supported by 17 tribes statewide, including the Gila River and TO communities, created a sound but delicate balance, a promise, that kept casinos out of urban neighborhoods, gave much needed revenue to the state and created an economic engine to lift every tribal community.

To see that balance upset and that promise broken – and to see one tribe use secrecy and legal maneuvering to benefit at the expense of every other tribe and our state – is difficult to comprehend, let alone stand for in silence.

Thus the Gila River Indian Community has taken our case to federal court. Our first goal is to force the federal government to apply federal gaming laws evenly. Never before has a tribe been allowed to “shop” for reservation land half a state away from its homeland, then open a casino on the newly created “pocket reservation.” That not only flies in the face of federal gaming law, but in the face of every Arizona’s vote for Proposition 202.

As for our sister tribe, I know our disagreement is temporary. Himdag has a place of supreme importance in their culture, too. I would like to believe that their leadership will rediscover their way soon enough. I believe we can achieve more together than apart and that greed should never be allowed to trump respect for all things.”

The deciding supporter of Alvarez’ plea was Councilmember Gary Sherwood. Mr. Sherwood can not have it both ways despite the rambling, confusing and often contradictory reasons for his decision. On one hand he says he still supports City Council Resolution 4246 that stated that the city is officially opposed to the TO casino.  It’s important to quote part of that resolution, “Whereas, the City believes that the Tohono O’odham Nation’s assertions and the basis upon which it makes these assertions are incorrect, poor public policy, in violation of the governmental rights, privileges, and authority of the State of Arizona, the County of Maricopa, and the City of Glendale, and are contrary to the best interests of the Citizens of the State of Arizona, the County of Maricopa, and the city of Glendale; and Whereas, the City of Glendale, consistent with the Indian tribes voicing opposition to the Tohono O’odham Nation’s application, opposes off-reservation gaming, including this current effort by the Tohono O’odham Nation to establish gaming on the Proposed Reservation Land, as contrary to the terms of Proposition 202 as presented to the people of the State of Arizona in 2002 and supported by, among other, the Tohono O’odham Nation.” Here is the link to Bailey’s (really Tindall’s legal opinion): .

On the other hand, Sherwood then launched into a monologue stating, in essence, the TO casino will create “synergy” with Westgate and drive more business there. In a pig’s eye and he knows it. Subsidized food, drink and room rates at the TO proposed casino will undercut every restaurant, bar and hotel in the Westgate area. Despite his statement that he still supports opposition to the proposed casino and it will be “contrary to the best interest of the City of Glendale and of the citizens of the State of Arizona” he then supported moving forward with negotiations with the TO and opposition to Franks’ bill.  On one hand he says he opposes the casino because it earns not a penny of revenue for Glendale yet on the other, he is prepared to negotiate and facilitate their eventual presence.  His position is illogical yet he became the fourth councilmember needed to achieve consensus and direction.

Why? Sometimes things become clearer with perspective. Think back to the arena deal vote. Sherwood knew Weiers, Hugh and Alvarez were opposed to the arena deal and Martinez and Knaack already supported him and the deal. The vote was split, 3 to 3. He discovered those 5 members could not be dissuaded. Whether one agreed with or opposed their positions they had the principles of their conviction and could not be moved. He desperately needed that 4th vote of approval for the arena deal.

Who was left? Newly elected Sam Chavira — of course. Whispers of this scenario have circulated for months. If Chavira voted for the arena deal, in return Sherwood would support the casino. Is it true? I don’t know but it makes perfect sense and certainly seems to fit the known facts. Did each sell their souls? For what? Political back scratching? To be recognized in public hockey town halls as the saviors of the Coyotes? Reelection financial support from hockey and TO stakeholders with deep pockets?

But at whose expense? The citizens of Glendale locked into unsustainable arena debt of an estimated $27 million a year with a council unwilling to make the budget cuts that make the arena deal feasible? The Westgate area business owners who will suffer from unfair competition? The residents of West Glendale whose property values will decline with the advent of a casino while crime and traffic increases? The Westgate business owners who will suffer from unfair competition?  The Indian tribes who joined the State Compact in good faith? The voters of the State of Arizona presented with a plan to limit casino locations?

These politicians were just that –typical politicians, exemplifying the worst of the offices they hold. Sherwood delivered an irresponsible and dangerous signal to casino friends and foes alike. His flip flop on one of his campaign promises should be remembered when he runs for reelection. Given this, expect him flip flop again and to support the hated billboards proposed for North Glendale.  After all, he confessed that all of the fuss over the billboards was “baffling” to him and he was “pro-business.” There is no statesmanship here.

© Joyce Clark, 2014


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