Mashpee Tribe To Hold Emergency Meeting On Creating New Gaming Agency
By: Brian Kehrl
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council has called an emergency meeting today to consider an ordinance to create an independent tribal agency to further the tribe’s pursuit of a casino.
The tribal council, which is the tribe’s governing body, voted to approve the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority last summer by a six to two margin, and the new entity began functioning under the direction of Chairman Cedric Cromwell, Treasurer Mark D. Harding, and Secretary Yvonne Avant. The three are also members of the tribal council.
However, the tribal council learned recently that it needed seven votes to properly create the gaming authority, according to information released by Mr. Cromwell last night via social media, so the June vote needed to be retaken.
A vote scheduled for Wednesday evening did not go forward after three council members walked out of the meeting, breaking the quorum, according to tribe members.
“The Tribe has an immediate need to receive funds from and preserve relationships with our gaming opportunity investor, who could be substantially harmed and can place our tribal property and assets at risk if the proposed ordinance is not adopted,” according to the emergency meeting notice.
The gaming authority is the recipient of the loans from the tribe’s casino investors, according to loan documents obtained by the Enterprise last fall.
According to a tribe member with knowledge of the situation, the tribe has borrowed $17.8 million from the tribe’s Malaysian casino investors since last summer. Approximately $700,000 per month goes toward regular operations of the tribal government. The remainder has been used for the tribe’s pursuit of a casino in Taunton.
David L. Pocknett, who is running against Mr. Cromwell in the tribal council election rescheduled for next Sunday, said such a significant vote should be postponed until after the election.
“I have concerns about it trying to be done so quickly right now without even going over it,” Mr. Pocknett said. “I understand that they continue to work until there is an election. I get that. But you should be doing day-to-day stuff, not this that’s going to encumber the tribe. Personally, I think it should be held off.”
Carlton H. Hendricks Jr., a tribal council member and opponent of Mr. Cromwell, said he does not feel the council should vote for the measure, both because of the impending election and because the council has not seen an accounting of what the authority has done to date.
“How can we possibly vote on an authority and ok what they have been doing for the past eight months without knowing what they have been doing, without records of how that money is spent?” Mr. Hendricks said. “The election is next Sunday. They knew we were going to be in financial distress.”
Mr. Cromwell, in his messages to tribe members posted on the tribe’s website, has sought to quell concerns about the creation of the new entity.
“The Ordinance also requires that the Chairperson of the Tribal Council be one of the directors and also serve as President of the Board of Directors, and that the Treasurer of the Tribal Council be one of those directors and also serve as Treasurer of the Board of Directors. (And to be clear, this means that whoever is in office at the time assumes these positions, not that I or the current Treasurer are appointed for all time),” Mr. Cromwell wrote. “In other words you, as members of the Tribe, vote to determine both the senior officers of the Tribal Council and the Tribal Gaming Authority by voting for your representatives on the Tribal Council.”
The authority will make decisions about the development, design, financing, and operation of the casino that cannot wait for a full vote of the tribal council, he wrote.
The authority has already been working on financing the casino, working with the project architect, and supervising the permitting process.
Other tribes with casinos have likewise created independent gaming authorities, he wrote.
“Fifth, even after it creates the Authority, the Tribal Council always retains a significant direct voice with respect to your Tribal Casino. The Tribal Council holds all of the real estate options, it is a party to the financing, it signed the Intergovernmental Agreement with the City of Taunton, it is the beneficiary of the land-into-trust process, it appoints the Authority Board and it can amend the Authority Ordinance pursuant to the Tribe’s Constitution whenever it chooses. Any suggestion that these matters have been ceded to the Gaming Authority is just not correct,” Mr. Cromwell wrote.
A spokesman for Mr. Cromwell did not immediately return a call last night seeking comment.
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