After nearly five years of discussions, legal fights and arguments, Glendale City Council came to a 4-3 consensus to begin negotiations with the Tohono O’odham Nation in regards to a possible casino in Glendale.
Councilmembers Samuel Chavira, Ian Hugh, Norma Alvarez and Gary Sherwood each agreed to negotiate with the Tohono O’odham on the casino. Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Yvonne Knaack and Councilmember Manny Martinez were against negotiations.
“While we are waiting for the courts to make a final decision, we are currently in a holding pattern and we want to know what direction to take from the council,” said City Attorney Michael Bailey.
“I would like to move forward and I would like to transition from fact-finding to negotiations, to make the best of this situation,” said Chavira. “I also want the city to oppose HR 1410. If that goes through, then everything we have done will be in vain.”
HR 1410 is a bill that would prohibit the establishment of casinos in the Phoenix metropolitan area on Indian land acquired after April 9, 2013. The bill was introduced to directly affect the Tohono O'odham Nation from building the casino in Glendale, at 91st and Northern avenues.
The Tohono O’odham Nation released a statement today welcoming formal negotiations with the city. The press release stated the talks would open the door for a positive resolution of the disagreements between the two communities over the major economic development project.
“On behalf of the Nation, I applaud the Glendale City Council for taking these important steps towards partnership, job creation and positive economic development,” said Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. in the release. “The Nation looks forward to working with Glendale leaders and staff to find a way for us to move forward together for the benefit of the entire West Valley.”
Sherwood, who has been against the casino and said he still is, believes the casino could be a moneymaker for a city that is facing severe cuts in the budget.
“In a November workshop, I said that it was a shame that we had no dialogue in four years,” Sherwood said. “Since then, there has been enough information received that I don’t see a risk to the city by moving forward.”
April will mark five years that the city has been fighting the proposed casino, and the city has spent more than $3.5 million on lawsuits against the Tohono O’odham Nation.
“I don’t want to waste that $3 million,” Knaack said. “If we change our minds now, that is like throwing that $3 million out the window for no reason.”
Discussion on whether to move to negotiations was bitter and divisive among the councilmembers.
“I believe that we need to begin negotiations and get it out in the open,” Alvarez said. “I am in favor of this because I know it will bring jobs to Glendale. The East Valley has casinos and they make money. Why shouldn’t we?”
Martinez said he didn’t feel council should change gears now before the courts have made a decision in front of Federal District Court Judge David Campbell. It has been in his hands for 10 months as both sides await a decision.
“We need to get the decision of the court because that is where it will be decided,” Martinez said. “In my mind, nothing has changed, and I think we need to wait until the court decides.”
The Tohono O’odham Nation has already won all court cases to date, but the change in the city’s stance on the casino has not changed, as they remain officially opposed to it.
“We have four councilmembers that want to negotiate, so I think that is what the city needs to do,” Alvarez said.
Weiers said opening negotiations with the tribe could hurt any possible relationships with two other tribes that have given the city numerous grants. One was a recent grant awarded to the city that was to purchase a new fire truck that is still in the discussion stages.