Elected and appointed Glendale officials met recently in southern Arizona with members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, which plans to build a casino on the outskirts of the city.
The meeting occurred while leaders from communities across the state attended the League of Arizona Cities and Towns Conference in Oro Valley last week. The meeting also included a casino tour.
The Glendale City Council introduced the notion of opening up dialogue during the Aug. 20 work study session.
“We have consensus on the City Council of Glendale to give staff formal direction to move forward,” said Councilman Sam Chavira, a supporter of the West Valley Resort Casino.
Chavira, Councilman Gary Sherwood and Vice Mayor Yvonne Knaack, along with the City Manager Brenda Fischer, interim Assistant City Manager Jamsheed Mehta and other staff members attended the tour and meeting with the Tohono O’odham.
“I just kind of wanted to see what the resort was like,” Knaack said.
“Since we were down here for the conference we thought we’d just visit one of their resorts and just get another presentation,” said Sherwood, who has opposed the West Valley Resort because of the sovereignty issue as well as economic issues that could adversely affect the city.
Sherwood said the only communication between the Tohono O’odham and the city was 45 minutes in 2009. And, he added, “we’re not doing real good on the lawsuits.”
Casino opponents have lost several times in court in an attempt to block the casino resort.
Pursuing future lawsuits could take years and be more costly, Sherwood said. “Let’s see what they can offer in terms of replacing loss of revenue,” he said, adding that there are ways to deal with the sovereignty issue.
“You have them give up sovereinty if you’re doing an MOU (memorandum of understanding) or an IGA (intergovernmental agreement). Just have the dialogue; it’s time to,” Sherwood said.
“We have some synergy between having Global Spectrum run our (Cardinals) stadium and our (Jobing.com) arena” and officials are looking at how to keep people after big events that will include a Super Bowl and could include such things as college basketball’s Final Four.
“The casino has always been more of a destination, not an attraction, but when you marry it up with everything else we’ve got going there, maybe that destination buckles up just a little bit and becomes somewhat of an attraction,” Sherwood said. “So you do get the spillover.”
The council is “open-minded” and “taking positive steps,” Chavira said. “We have never been able to sit across the table” and question each other.
“It is very important to establish a rapport that needed to be established 4 1/2 years ago.” Chavira said discussions are beneficial ”because when you don’t have any dialogue, you can pretty much be rest assured you won’t accomplish anything.”
Chavira said Councilman Manny Martinez and Mayor Jerry Weiers are opposed to the dialogue. He said Martinez is consistent in his opposition but open minded.
Sherwood said the council has to officially state that it wants to have dialogue with the Tohono O’odham during a council meeting.
He said if there is a “workable solution,” then it would go to a public council meeting to discuss “whether it’s time to drop the lawsuit and start working with them.”
Part of the discussions would be with cities such as Tucson and the agreements they have with the Tohono O’odham.
During the visit last week, the Tohono O’odham showed the Glendale group its security and “how they work with Tucson and the sheriff’s office,” said Sherwood.
Glendale has spent $3.3 million on the lawsuits, and “we’re on the hook to cover some of their costs.” Sherwood said the Tohono O’odham said the figure is about $5 million.
“So far we haven’t won through court. Sometimes it has to do with the administration that is in control,” he said.
“If we learn that we just can’t come to an agreement, at least we know that. We don’t know that right now,” Sherwood said. “They’re in a hurry; they’ve been fighting this for some time.
“Truly all they have asked us for is to sit down and discuss it and how do you say no to that?” Sherwood said, “It’s a shame it’s gone on this far.”