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Plymouth Council Halts Casino Talks with Tribe

By Jim Reece

Plymouth voted 3-0-1 in a special meeting last Thursday to stop negotiating for casino mitigations with the Ione Band of Miwok Indians.

Mayor Mike O´Meara called the special meeting, saying he had wanted the item on the agenda, though staff apparently did not get the message in time.

O´Meara, in debating whether to end negotiations, said that when he first made it to council, he wanted to do what he could to protect the city, including the negotiations for mitigations. But after his trip to Washington, D.C. with Vice Mayor Pat Shackleton, he learned that even simple negotiations with the tribe was seen by the Department of the Interior and politicians “appear tantamount to support.”

“Even though we don´t want it, it´s seen as though we support it,” O´Meara said.

Councilman Greg Baldwin abstained in the vote to revoke official policy to seek an agreement with the band, saying later he was “just in that kind of mood.” Baldwin also abstained in a 3-0-1 vote to approve the contract of new city administrator Gene Albaugh. Albaugh´s contract is for $55,600.

The new administrator will have the same duties as former Administrator Hilary Straus, but Albaugh will be an independent contractor, rather than a city employee and will work 40 hours every two weeks, City Attorney Mike Dean said before the vote.

Albaugh, regarding the casino, said, “I have no position at all that I can bring forward at this time.”

Dean reported that “everyone has received a copy of the Administrative Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” the federal environmental document which the Ione Miwoks are working on in their pursuit to place the land in trust.

Dean said that city staff, including Engineer John German, Planner Eileen Shaw and his office all had copies of the ADEIS and were working on comments.

Palo Alto consultants Matrix Consulting Group, hired by the city Feb. 10 to study a casino´s impacts on water, sewer, police and fire, also had a copy of the ADEIS, Dean said. They all would make comments and Shaw will prepare them to be returned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Dean said the tribe´s responses would then be attached to the growing ADEIS document.

In debating the decision to revoke the policy of negotiation, Councilman Jon Colburn asked if any law prevented the negotiations and if federal law had changed.

“None that I am aware of. It´s a policy decision on whether to go forward now or not with negotiations,” Dean said. “These are not legal questions. These decisions are almost quintessentially political.”

He said there was “no change necessarily, however, since January, there has been an awful lot of talk.”

He didn´t know what Sen. John McCain would introduce at the federal level or “what kind of casino moratoria” are going to be introduced in the state.

“California has most of the Indian tribes in the United States and most of the applications for casinos,” Dean said. “How you want to factor that in, I don´t know, Jon.”

Casino opponent Walter Dimmers of Burke Ranch asked about the status of the “support clause” in the Municipal Services Agreement with the tribe.

Dean said once the city gets around to writing an agreement – if negotiations occurred – it “would not have a support clause.

“The tribe understands that very well and they have not been pushing back on that,” he said, adding that the city would “go neutral” in the next version of the contract.

“One of the causes of the delay in the issuing of the (ADEIS) was the litigation that´s currently ongoing caused the tribe to rethink what the tribe wanted to say about where it would get its services,” Dean said. They no longer will get them from the city and will provide their own.

He said the ADEIS was “not being held up or advanced in any way.”

Shackleton said the “fact that we were negotiating” was seen in Washington, D.C. as “some support,” noting that in the trip to the Capitol that if the local big three – Amador County, the Jackson Rancheria and Plymouth – opposed the casino, “it would be a considerable amount of weight.”

She noted that during the visit with state legislators and other officials, they were surprised to find the Plymouth mayor and vice mayor opposed the casino, noting that a visit, last year, by Mayor Darlene Scanlon and Vice Mayor Rich Martin, brought a message of support from Plymouth.

Shackleton said she also asked if the politicians heard about the recall election then underway in Plymouth.

“They had not heard about the recall,” Shackleton said.

O´Meara said that the “landscape has changed toward these casinos. I think in the next couple of years, land use legislation will be aimed toward these casinos.”

Moreover, the D.C. level of the BIA “thought we weren´t getting straight answers in Sacramento,” Shackleton said.

Baldwin asked Dean if he thought the Department of the Interior is “going to throw the support clause in the trash.”

“I would assume we would notify them that the support clause was no longer there,” Dean said.

Dean said that no motion on the item would constitute a “continuance of the council´s prior direction.” The council passed a resolution on March 24 to sign a contract with Allen Johnson, paying him up to $36,000, for future work and also retroactively, at $300 per hour, to negotiate a new deal with the tribe. On Feb. 10, the council hired Matrix to study casino impacts, for up to $75,000.

Colburn said the “studies are not a waste unless the casino doesn´t go at all,” adding that the city for the last few months had spent about $7,000 a month just for negotiations.

Shackleton, O´Meara and Colburn voted to stop negotiations. Councilwoman Patricia Fordyce was absent.

Reprinted with permission from The Amador Ledger Dispatch