After years of ongoing opposition to the Tohono O'odham Nation's plan to build a resort-style casino, the new Glendale City Manager suggests the city drop legal opposition and develop a "more positive" relationship with the tribe.
Acting City Manager Dick Bowers authored a memo on April 26 to the City Council telling its members "it will be wise to establish a more positive relationship with the Tohono O'odham Nation as a potentially significant element in the Glendale visitor scene."
See also: Tohono O'odham Nation Racks Up Another Legal Victory in Federal Court See also: Glendale Officials Ordered to Pay Tohono O'odham Nation's Legal Fees See also: Wanna Bet? The Tohono O'odham Want to Build a Casino in the West Valley
Bowers memo marks a significant change in Glendale's attitude and approach.
The previous mayor and city manager -- Elaine Scruggs and Ed Beasley, respectively -- were staunch opponents of the casino from the moment it was announced.
Bowers continued in his memo that "if the casino never gets built, the relationship will be positive. If it is built, the relationships will be an imperative."
City officials in neighboring communities -- Peoria and Tolleson -- have long supported the Tohono O'odham Nation's plan. On May 7, the City Council voted to officially oppose a bill proposed by Congressman Trent Franks aimed at prohibiting the West Valley casino.
Bowers' memo also noted what is no doubt painfully obvious to city officials:
The City has failed in two courts to secure a favorable conclusion to reverse a federal decision designating the land near 95th and Northern avenues as Tohono O'odham Nation tribal land. ... Glendale has spent a sizeable sum for attorneys and staff time throughout the legal process."
In late 2011, the Arizona Supreme Court ordered the City of Glendale to pay legal fees incurred by the Nation during court battles related to the city's opposition of its casino. At the time, the legal fees were $85,497.96.
Since then, city officials have reported the total tab upwards of $3 million. We've got a call into the City of Glendale for details.
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About a week after Bowers wrote his memo, the Nation won another victory in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell shot down the Nation's rabid opponents by ruling that their casino plan is in compliance with the state's gaming compacts.
"I also believe we should reframe this as a business issue with a difference of opinions and avoid any negative connotations," Bowers wrote.
DATE: April 26, 2013
TO: Mayor and Council
FROM: Dick Bowers, Acting City Manager
SUBJECT: Tohono O'odham Nation
Councilmember Hugh requested, as a Council Item of Special Interest, my viewpoint regarding the City of Glendale's next step in the Tohono O'odham casino issue. My viewpoint is an administrative perspective and not a legal opinion.
The City has failed in two courts to secure a favorable conclusion to reverse a federal decision designating the land near 95th and Northern avenues as Tohono O'odham Nation tribal land. The case rests now with the 9th Circuit Appeals Court. Should the federal decision stand, "it could bump up the timeline for gaming because the tribe would not have to wait for another, anticipated slow federal decision specific to gaming on the property." If not, there is likely to be an attempt to have the case heard by the U. S. Supreme Court.
I understand the opposition to the designation of this parcel as tribal land and the casino intentions by those with much to lose. Glendale has spent a sizeable sum for attorneys and staff time throughout the legal process. There is a bill being recently introduced in Congress. Given the President's position on the bill a year or so past, it will never get through the Senate or past the President's desk.
In my opinion it will be wise to establish a more positive relationship with the Tohono O'odham Nation as a potentially significant element in the Glendale visitor scene. If the casino never gets built, the relationship will be positive. If it is built, the relationships will be an imperative. This will do no harm and may do a great deal of good. I also believe we should reframe this as a business issue with a difference of opinions and avoid any negative connotations.
On the legal side, if the 9th Circuit Appeals Court decision does not favor the City's stated position, I would urge the Council to not proceed to the U. S. Supreme Court but move forward with making a sound business relationship with the Nation. We currently have three ongoing expenses while awaiting the Court decision; a $2000 per month retainer with Steptoe-Johnson, this is wise and prudent, a $3500 per month retainer with Policy Arizona and $3500 per month retainer with Scutari & Ciesalk, Inc., which, the City Attorney and I agree are not essential and we will terminate at the earliest contractual date possible.
My viewpoint is influenced by my relationship of many years with the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. The Casinos on tribal land are a valuable component of the hospitality offering in Scottsdale. That circumstance can be very different community by community so may mean little to this discussion. However, if the casino is built, we must seek ways to advantage Glendale by the proximity to the resort and its guests.