To the Editor: Who does council represent?

For some observers of the March 8 council meeting, the noteworthy and shameful event was that two council members refused to approve the agenda before an item (the casino-related entry, of course) was first removed. Those objecting to the removal of this item claim that the removal was shameful because absolutely no harm could possibly come of leaving this item on the agenda – as it was listed as a discussion item.

According to these folks, it was reasonable for the mayor to include on the council agenda an item suggesting that she lobby the federal government in support of a sovereign entity, but it was unreasonable for other council members to remove it.

At what point was the mayor assigned the role to lobby – not on behalf of Ridgecrest and its citizens – but on behalf of a private entity that wants to set up shop here? I thought it was the council members’ role to represent the interests and well-being of those who elected them – not lobby for some outsider to whom the long-term well-being of the community is less than top priority.

But it was only a discussion item, you say? Perhaps. But if it had remained on the agenda, council members would have been within their rights to vote on providing direction to the mayor on this issue or even approve travel costs to Washington for the mayor’s proposed activity.

And what about the former Council Member Lori Acton who voted in favor of the casino (while on council) and is now lobbying the city council on behalf of the tribe? Is that activity not shameful? It’s certainly illegal enough to force the city attorney to cancel Acton-proposed private get-togethers between tribal and city leaders. Any yet, it’s Stephens and Martin who are supposed to be ashamed for blocking a ill-crafted entry (a three-line title with no explanatory information) on the council agenda?

Let’s not overlook the city’s habit of hastily approving and even monetarily backing shady ventures. How many millions did city officials throw to the wind when they awarded grants to Monarch, Pertexa and EH Group? The council approving the grants was assured by then Economic Development Directory Gary Parsons that usage of the grant money would be closely scrutinized through audits. But when the time for audits came, the city declined to scrutinize the grant recipients, and now each and every one has quietly folded without ever answering for what happened with the millions of dollars they removed from the city’s treasury. (By the way, Acton both approved Pertexa’s grant award – as a council member – and then began working for Pertexa immediately following her exit from the council.)

Perhaps these recent grant debacles have some council members on edge, and they are concerned about the risks to which the city may be exposed by this latest proposed venture. Notwithstanding Tribal Chair George Gohlson’s verbal assurances that we don’t need to worry about the casino depleting our water supply or selling marijuana and that we can trust him and his tribe completely, this is no ordinary low-risk development that we’re considering for our city. If the land sale is finalized, operations on the casino-acquired land will be as much outside of our control as are the happenings in London or Moscow. The only protections that the city of Ridgecrest will have are risk-mitigation measures formally approved in writing before the land sale is finalized.

Given the grave permanence of the decisions the city council must consider regarding the proposed casino and the city’s history of willfully under-scrutinizing ventures that deplete our scarce taxpayer funds and diminish our local welfare, perhaps we would be better off if more city leaders were willing to engage in the “shameful” activity of scrutinizing the proposed casino development and lobbying on behalf of our city well-being rather than the other way around.

Tom Rafalski

Story First Published: 2018-03-23