Stephens: tribe’s needs are being put before city’s

Stephens: tribe’s  needs are being put before city’sBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council met Wednesday evening while City Manager Ron Strand was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with the assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior to support the Timbisha Shoshone casino project in Ridgcrest. Strand’s trip was approved 3-2 by council last month while an item to to send a city representative to discuss the needs and protections of the city was voted down.

“I just wanted to say that I was very disappointed that the meeting to D.C. was scheduled prior to the agenda item that I had requested publicly at the last meeting, per policy,” said Councilmember Lindsey Stephens, one of the members opposed to Strand’s trip. “We were not able to give input on what was said at the meeting. There were also many who would have liked to have it recorded, and I don’t think that was done.”

She added that the city had to postpone an important discussion about California Public Employees Retirement System refinancing because of the city manager’s absence.

Stephens and others voiced concerns Wednesday evening that our city manager had been sent to support the tribe’s casino development, with no voice for the project’s strong local opposition. Casino proponents argue that because council approved a municipal services agreement and land sale with the tribe, the city has an obligation to show support of the project to the federal government.

“Part of the discussion, in my opinion, was [council] agreed to discuss what they wanted [Strand] to do and give him guidance before he left,” said Ron Porter during public comment. “But I understand he left today. We can’t turn around and say we’re going to send somebody to talk about this but we have no idea what he’s going to do, what he’s going to support or what he’s going to request.”

Before leaving, Strand clarified that he would follow whatever direction council provided, but said the item was “pretty direct” in specifying that his job was to simply support the project.

During public comment, Mike Neel questioned the logic of sending Strand to back the tribe’s project and not sending Stephens to voice the citizens’ concerns.

“God forbid [Stephens] should go to D.C. to represent the people who voted her into office,” said Neel. “Now suddenly tribe members who never lived here and [White], who likely doesn’t even live in California, deserve representation by our councilmembers. How is that supposed to work? Somebody please tell me.”

The item was not on the agenda and therefore not open to discussion between council and the public. Views were expressed only during public comment at the beginning of the meeting and council comment at the end.

The casino has been a subject of debate since the public first heard about the project in early 2016. Many support the project and expect it to provide jobs and entertainment, increased revenue to the city and a possible performance venue. Others have voiced concerns about what unintended consequences may result from transferring city property to a sovereign nation, the possibility of increased crime associated with casinos, gambling addiction and other public-safety concerns. Some are simply opposed to the idea of a gambling establishment in the middle of town.

Strand was unavailable for comment at press time, but said he assumed council would request a briefing on the trip at a future council meeting. The Ridgecrest City Council meets every first and third Wednesday of the month, 6 p.m. at City Hall. For more information visit ridgecrest-ca.gov/city-council.

Story First Published: 2018-04-06