By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO July 18, 2003 On Tuesday, the Sullivan County Legislatures Executive Committee voted to hire more consultants to help with the casino issues the county is facing. As with everything that is connected with gambling, it was not easy.
Tuesdays meeting was reconvened from Thursdays Executive Committee meeting. It was recessed because discussions had gone long on other issues.
While the meeting was scheduled for 9:30 a.m., it did not start until 10 a.m. That irritated Democratic legislators Chris Cunningham and Kathleen LaBuda and some of the others in attendance. The late start was due to the Republican lawmakers being in caucus.
Once the meeting started, it went quickly. The first resolution was to hire the Albany law firm of Whiteman, Osterman, and Hanna as environmental consultants on casino issues. At Thursdays meeting, Dan Ruzow from the firm was there to go over some things with the lawmakers in executive session.
There has been a great deal of discussion on this, commented County Attorney Ira Cohen. Due to the scope, size and proximity of the three [proposed casino] projects, the BIA [federal Bureau of Indian Affairs] will want a federal [environmental] impact statement. The Mohawks [for their project at Kutshers Sports Academy] have already been contacted. The other two [the Stockbridge-Munsee and Cayuga tribes] have not been contacted.
This was all motivated by the Department of Justice, Cohen continued. This has nothing to do with Sullivan County. However, the county will be involved in the scoping process. [The request for the federal environmental impact statement] has not been put in writing yet. This is not just related to Sullivan County, it is being done on a national basis, and they are working out the details. I advise that we be closely involved in the process.
This is not about litigation, added Committee Chair Leni Binder. It will become imperative that all involved have an environmental attorney. It is a negative if we dont do this.
There had been some conjecture on what the group would be paid. The resolution calls for an amount not to exceed $25,000.
This is not a check for $25,000, remarked District 5 Legislator Rodney Gaebel. This will be as needed. We need to review what has been done and what needs to be done.
This is not a retainer, reiterated District 9 Legislator Jim Carnell Jr. It will be contingent on the information we receive. They will look at all three projects.
The resolution passed 7-2, with Cunningham and LaBuda opposed. Binder stated County Manager Dan Briggs would meet with the group and provide reports.
The next resolution was for Global Network Enterprises, Inc. to prepare the impact analysis for the BIA. Global is the company formed and operated by Sullivan County Empire Zone Coordinator George Bucci. Bucci would put together the final report from data gathered by the countys Casino Advisory Committee. Bucci will be paid up to $10,000 for this report.
Again this is not a retainer, stated Gaebel. This project needs to be done.
Originally, it was discussed that Casino Advisory Committee member Gerald Skoda would do the report. LaBuda asked why this changed. Binder responded that some were uncomfortable with the perception that a volunteer was being paid to do this work.
This is not if we are for or against gaming, Binder said. We have to justify the numbers. We need to update and verify it.
There are as many people against gaming as there are for it, pointed out District 6 Legislator Jodi Goodman. We owe it to the people to protect the countys environment. It is our duty to do this. This is not about for or against gaming.
That resolution also passed 7-2 with LaBuda and Cunningham opposed. After the meeting, the Democrats blasted the Republicans for the mornings activities.
This is all what if, what if. Nothing has been in writing, LaBuda said. Why cant the village [of Monticello] or the Racetrack pay for this? It is another waste of money just like the lobbyist.
There is no clear, definitive direction on where they are heading, Cunningham commented. They are spending more money, and they do not know if [the reports] will be used.
They made us sit and wait half an hour, Cunningham continued. It is inappropriate and insulting. Everything was done behind closed doors. That appears to be the new trend around here. It is like the Apple Dumpling Gang running Sullivan County.
Afterwards, Cunningham, the minority leader, sent a memo to Binder on the situation. In it, he made a strong protest for waiting half an hour. He accused them of deciding what was said behind closed doors and their public comments were carefully scripted. He urged them to reconsider such actions in the future and stated that it is no way to conduct the peoples business.
Majority leader Gaebel responded to the comments and the memo.
The political process allows for caucus, Gaebel stated. Occasionally, issues need to be discussed that is part of the process. Chris should remember that well. When we first got here on January 1, 1996, the Democrats had a 7-2 majority, and Chris was the majority leader. For two years, they ran the county business behind closed doors in caucus.
Apparently, his heavy-handed tactics did not work, as he was voted out as majority leader two years later by his Democratic peers, Gaebel continued. We have open discussions on all issues, and that is a healthy way for government or business to move forward.
Chris made mention on how politics works. He seems to be politically correct with the rules and regulations on the scheme of things. I do not think Chris is opposed to the process. I think he is upset because he couldnt make it work, and we can.
Gaebel then addressed the two resolutions that were passed.
If gaming is coming, we as the gatekeepers have to be prepared and make sure the county is protected and that enforceable agreements are in place to mitigate the impacts if and when it comes, Gaebel said. The BIA will dictate what we need to do. We are not throwing money around. We need to be prepared. It would be a bigger tragedy if the reverse happened [casinos came and the county was not prepared for the impacts].
The resolution passed the full board at its monthly meeting yesterday. Again, both passed 7-2, with Cunningham and LaBuda opposed.