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'Where is the integrity?' Casino item pulled, but heated casino debate goes on - News - Taft Midway Driller - Taft, CA

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'Where is the integrity?' Casino item pulled, but heated casino debate goes on - News - Taft Midway Driller - Taft, CA

The item regarding the Ridgecrest casino project was pulled from the agenda at the most recent Ridgecrest City Council meeting, but that did not stop the casino from being a major topic of discussion during the meeting.


Item 10 on the Ridgecrest City Council agenda for March 7 under “Discussion and other Action Items” referenced the possibility of Mayor Peggy Breeden taking a trip to Washington DC with the Timbisha Shoshone tribe to discuss the casino project with the Director of the Department of the Interior. The Ridgecrest City Council in 2016 voted to approve a municipal services agreement with the tribe regarding the casino. Breeden said prior to closed session on Wednesday that her function in going to Washington would be to reiterate what council previously approved.
Breeden also said the purpose of the agenda item, which will be back at a later date, was to see if council (and the public) supported her making the trip.


The item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute by longtime casino opponents Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens (who made the motion) and Councilman Wallace Martin (who seconded it). After a lengthy debate, a subsequent motion by Stephens passed 4 to 1.


In addition to Stephens and Martin, Breeden and Councilman Eddie Thomas both voted to approve the agenda minus the casino item but only after City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen said out that without an approved agenda the entire city council meeting would have to be cancelled. These events occurred prior to council's closed session around 5 p.m., March 7 and can be viewed on videotape at ridgecrest-ca.gov/media-vault.


Members of the public were not happy with the decision to pull the item, with several complaining about it during the public comment period.


Scott Leahy mentioned a potential Brown Act violation, but withdrew the comment when he learned the item was pulled prior to the closed session.


According to CNPA Legal Counsel Nikki Moore, the last minute agenda item pull does not constitute a technical violation of the Brown Act but may be problematic nonetheless. Moore told the Daily Independent Friday that the act may represent a violation of the spirit of the law by showing a lack of respect and concern for members of the public, some of whom had travelled significant distances with the expectation of being heard on a particular agenda item and issue.


Moore added that the issue becomes even more potentially problematic in the light of the incident last month when members of the Timbisha Shoshone tribal council drove long distances only to be told a different item on the casino had been pulled from the council agenda at the last minute.


Breeden and City Clerk Ricca Charlon said at Wednesday's meeting that attempts would be made to notify interested parties right away in the event of future last-minute agenda changes.


Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Chairman George Gholson was in attendance and took advantage of the public comment to speak up. Gholson first said talked about his history as a Navy veteran.


Gholson then spoke about the elephant in the room, attempts by casino opponents to question and possibly undo the municipal services agreement with the tribe.


Martin at the earlier portion of the council meeting spoke openly about “four or seven” problems with the MSA that he said needed to be dealt with prior to any other actions being taken on the casino project. He said this in the context of why the agenda item on the casino should be pulled.


Gholson said city councils make many agreements with other parties and “my assumption is that whenever the next city council comes in they don't undo those agreements. Otherwise, the city would have a reputation where they would have a problem getting business. The tribe has an agreement and everybody is aware of this agreement and this agreement was passed by a [previous] city council with a three to two vote.


“I do understand that this is a controversial issue, but the city did make a commitment. To have people on the city council attempt to undermine the agreement has me wondering, 'where is the integrity?'”


Gholson, holding a copy of the MSA, added, “I would hope as we move forward that the commitment that the city made by approving this document is upheld not only by this city council but future city councils because we have integrity as a tribe and we expect our partners to have the same.”


Ridgecrest resident Ricky Fielding also spoke up. On Feb. 4, Fielding — along with fellow resident Michael Neel and organization Stand up for California! —  FedExed a letter via a set of attorneys to the Department of the Interior complaining that the land acquisition process Memo of Agreement between the tribe and the DOI is faulty for several reasons.


Fielding and Neel have been outspoken casino opponents during previous city council meetings.


Fielding at this most recent meeting accused the tribe of “attempting to short-circuit” protections in the MSA by using a mandatory land acquisition process.


In a confusing turn of phrase, Fielding mentioned “recent disagreements with the tribe over water export, additional trust lands and marijuana sales.” It is not clear the exact nature of the disagreements he was referring to.


Casino opponents have repeatedly accused the tribe of conspiring to export water for gain and also of planning to use the casino property once acquired to grow marijuana. Accusers voicing these theories have offered no evidence of such conspiracies. Ghoson, for his part, previously said the tribe has no plans to export water or grow marijuana on the casino property.


Former city council member Lori Acton also spoke up, visibly passionate.


Acton was on the council who voted to approve the MSA and hers was a yes vote. She now works for the tribe.


Acton said the tribe cannot by agreement do the things they are being accused of planning.


She also said in her opinion the city is willing to take advantage of local Native American heritage with the annual petroglyph festival but “we don't want to help them be independent and have education for their youth and send them to college and have hospitals and any of those types of things."


She was critical of stances by some council members.


“I am highly, highly disappointed by a couple of council members,” Acton said, possibly referring to Stephens and Martin, but calling out no one by name. “Because it calls into question what was done by the previous council. And we had integrity. And we did things the right way and we did our due diligence. To not carry out your word? That reflects on me. We knew that we made a decision that would change the face of Ridgecrest forever. And that was a big decision. We did not take it lately.”


Dave Matthews also spoke up, saying he is against the casino. “Some of the people up there are representing our views,” he said. Matthews appeared to be referring to Stephens and Martin as representing those with an anti-casino bias.


Gholson spoke again, clarifying Breeden's role should the trip to Washington take place.


“There is no lobbying taking place, the decision has already been made here. We [the tribe] do our own lobbying. We don't need the city to do that on our behalf,” he said. “It [DC trip] was to have a discussion with the man who is making the decision to make sure the city is getting what it wants.”


Gholson commented on some of the accusations leveled at the tribe. “Some of the comments that were made up here are so comical because they are so far away from the truth. You can't even squeeze any truth out of that.”


Gholson then demonstrated an apparent lack of understanding about California water issues by joking that there must be gold in the water here because people are so concerned about it.


He concluded by repeating, “We are not going to export water.”


As an item no longer on the agenda, the casino topic appeared to be done when the public comment concluded but this was not the case.


Stephens took advantage of her council comments at the end of the meeting to defend herself against Acton's comments, although she did not mention Acton by name.


“I just wanted to make a comment about something that was said during public comment,” she said. She went on to read a definition of integrity which including having “moral principles” and “moral uprightness.”


“I don't think there has been any actions of our council that have not had integrity and I would say that the person questioning our integrity should consider their own integrity and they did violate the law and that was clarified by our attorneys to that person. That was not upholding integrity,” she said in an obvious reference to Acton.


Mayor Pro Tem Michael Mower, also obviously referring to Acton, said that she did not go to work for the casino immediately after voting on the MSA but rather after she ran for council re-election and lost and some time had elapsed.


Stephens said Acton violated the law by taking a job with Pertexa.


“She violated the law,” Stephens said. “To say that I don't have integrity I don't appreciate that.”


Acton actually took a job not with Pertexa but with a Pertexa subcontractor after voting to award an economic development grant to Pertexa. The city attorneys at the time reported that they found no evidence of conflict of interest in Acton's actions. Stephens was not a member of the Ridgecrest City Council at the time.


Breeden requested that the item regarding her potential trip to DC with the tribe be placed on the agenda at the upcoming council meeting March 21.

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEAYQAJFtIOcml221D63ytTprBDkA&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779827699602&ei=07ekWviHGobhhgGu9aSABA&url=http://www.taftmidwaydriller.com/news/20180310/where-is-integrity-casino-item-pulled-but-heated-casino-debate-goes-on

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