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Tuesday’s City Council Meeting: What’s Next for Slots Proposal

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

 

The Worcester City Council voted Tuesday night to recommend that City Manager Michael O'Brien collect and report back -- in less than 30 days -- information gathered regarding the impact of a slots parlor proposal in Worcester.

The change in language from "authorize" to "recommend" the City Manager to move forward was put forth by District 3 Councilor George Russell, and approved.  O'Brien was also instructed by Mayor Petty not not broker at this juncture a community host agreement as required by law, but to rather gather pertinent economic, health, and safety impacts and report back to the Council first. 

A second public forum before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Public Safety is scheduled for tomorrow, where Rush Street Gaming representatives are expected to unveil at  least some of their intended plans, as they would still need to negotiate a community host agreement with O'Brien

Impassioned testimony in opposition to a slots parlor proposal by Rush Street Gaming dictated most of the evening, although several voices were heard in support of a slots proposal. 

Open Meeting Violation Complaints Addressed

Prior to hearing complaints filed regarding open meeting violations, Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty took the opportunity to address the issue. 

"There was never any intent to violate open meeting laws," said Petty, regarding the five complaints filed, alleging that the City Council engaged in "private discussions" leading up to the release of a letter by the Mayor on April 10, which indicated that 10 of the 11 City Councilors had agreed to support the motion to authorize the city manager to negotiate a host agreement. 

"Maybe we came close to the line," he added, noting that the press release should have been worded differently to avoid confusion.  "We're reviewing rules to see if changes need to be made," said Petty.

Kevin Ksen, who was one of the complaint filers, said that the slots proposal process was "completely tainted," and that Council Members "soliciting opinion" from other Councilors without public discussion prior was a "clear violation" of open meeting laws.

Councilor Frederick Rushton spoke up regarding the matter, saying that "signing onto orders" did not constitute deliberations, and that calls for "sign-ons" happen regularly at the School Committee level.

Opposition Heats Up, Scant Support

The City Council chamber was standing-room only Tuesday night, with the majority of people testifying speaking out in opposition to a slots parlor.

Worcester resident Ed Moynihan, who has been a vocal critic of a slots proposal, said that the City Council should demand to know from Rush Street Gaming how much they planned to spend in Worcester leading up to a public vote. 

"We, who oppose the slots parlor, will be facing an onslaught of money, a slick campaign and advertising, inundated on airwaves and TVs. We're not billionaires, but we're committed, and concerned."

Holy Cross Professor of Political Science David Schaefer invoked a number of arguments, ranging from moral lessons from President James Madison to citing a study calling slots the "crack cocaine" of gaming. "Will parents want to send their children to Holy Cross, knowing there's a casino right downtown?," he asked. 

Richard Kennedy with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce testified that the Chamber was opposed to a slots parlor, to resounding applause in the chamber.

Former Worcester Teamsters' President Carl Gentile fired up the crowd when he took the podium, asking the Councilors, "If they'd had enough yet."  Gentile finished his testimony by saying they should consider putting a new police unit on proposed slots parlor location at the Wyman-Gordon property instead.

Juan Gomez, former Worcester City Councilman currently with social services agency Centro Las Americas, gave an impassioned speech in support of a slots proposal -- and the jobs it would bring to the community. 

"There are many, many people out there who would take these jobs. I'd rather them take these jobs than be dependent on the system," said Gomez.  "People say "those people," those people"...those people could have those jobs."

Gomez finished by saying, "We better have a good deal however!'

Councilors Weigh in on Process

Following public testimony, City Councilors took the opportunity to address those in attendance.  One by one, they spoke of their support -- or opposition-- for voting to allow City Manager O'Brien to collect information, and ultimately broker a host agreement to put to a public vote. 

Councilor Joseph O'Brien said, "I feel we have an obligation to make this process move forward...I don't think this is the right time to stop the process. We need to have honest conversations about revenue, jobs."

"Should we put the rest of the citizenry under guardianship? Are we saying they're not fit enough to vote? It would be arrogant, and elitist," said Councilor Frederick Rushton.  "I could stand here in opposition, but democracy trumps it. The people of Worcester matter, they're smart enough."

Speaking out in opposition were Councilor Konstantina Lukes and Councilor Sarai Rivera. 

"I've never seen any research that says slots parlors are a good economic tool for any jurisdiction," said Lukes, who referenced her family's history of experiences with oppressive governments as a driving force in her call for open government.

"Let's not do something that looks like we're conspiring with the slots parlor. Let's not do this in July and August when people are on vacation. We need to tell our constituents how we feel about this," said Lukes.

Rivera said that by publicly opposing slots -- and saying she would vote no, "Isn't about taking away people's right to vote, [rather] it's a no to mitigation, and a process that's unjust...with the amount of dollars that will be poured into this."

After Councilors weighed in, Mayor Petty called for a vote to recommend that City Manager O'Brien collect information and report back in less than 30 days, with Rivera and Lukes being the only votes in opposition. 

 

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