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After Longmeadow Select Board talks discretion, Grant attacks MGM again

Date: 12/6/2013

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – Hours after a discussion by the Select Board about members utilizing discretion when making statements or sending correspondence regarding the proposed MGM casino development in Springfield, Selectman Alex Grant sent a letter to members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), as well as members of the media again attacking MGM.

Grant followed up anemail he sent on Nov. 28 that alleged that MGM misrepresented Longmeadow’s proximity to the proposed site and urged the MGC to “accept nothing at face value from MGM” with a second letter on Dec. 6 that insisted that the information he provided “represents an independent basis to deny an gaming license to MGM.”

“Section 16(a) of the gaming statute statute [sic] states that ‘[t]he commission shall deny an application for a license or registration … if the applicant has … submitted an application for a license under this chapter that contains false or misleading information,’” he wrote “Indeed, the ‘shall’ language makes denial mandatory should this commission find the information submitted by MGM to be false.”

He added that that it should be considered in the commission’s suitability determination. MGM’s suitability hearing is slated for Dec. 9.

“MGM’s plans have been approved by the host community, Springfield, and may be approved by the Gaming Commission, on the strength of promises made by MGM. These are big promises, and most of the representations have to be taken on faith because they concern the future,” he wrote. “As a result, the credibility of those promises takes on an unusual importance. Here, MGM has submitted information that a) works to its advantage, and b) is demonstrably false.”

MGM declined to comment on Grant’s accusations when queried by Reminder Publications regarding the Nov. 28 letter, which was sent to members of the MGC, as well as the media, governing boards of several other surrounding towns, and Selectman Paul Santaniello.

No other selectmen, nor Town Manager Stephen Crane were sent the Nov. 28 letter. No members of the Select Board were privy to the Dec. 6 letter and Crane stated he was not aware of it when asked later that morning.

At the Select Board meeting on Dec. 5 during which a second mitigation offer to Longmeadow was unveiled, a discussion regarding the manner in which members of the board should address the media and the public regarding the issue was initiated by Selectman Mark Gold.

While members of the board agreed that all Selectmen maintain their First Amendment rights to free speech, Gold said a distinction should be made so the public is aware of what the board’s official position is, as opposed to those of any individual member, a position Selectman Richard Foster agreed with.

“I’m very concerned about the dual representation that someone can have in front of the town,” Foster said.

Grant, who was present at the start of the meeting, but left before its conclusion due to scheduling conflicts, was not privy to that conversation.

While stating he was acting as a private citizen in his first letter, he sent it from his Longmeadow issued email account and his signature read “Alex Grant Longmeadow Select Board.” In the second letter, he identified himself as a selectman and member of No Casino Springfield, a citizen’s group opposed to any Springfield gaming development.

Santaniello said he was worried about any talk of “muzzling” another member of the board, explaining years earlier the selectmen had similar discussions about a member and he was uncomfortable with it then as well.

He added he was not concerned about the media, stating, “Most of the time, they get it wrong anyway.”

Crane said, “We are all responsible for the things that we say,” and cautioned that actions by board members could “color the opinion” of the commission or arbitrators, should negotiations come to that.

Santaniello questioned why the town should be cautious while MGM continues to make public statements, including some he believes to be false.

The board discussed making attorney Brandon Moss of Murphy, Hesse, Toomey and Lehane, the firm hired to represent the town in surrounding community agreement negotiations as the primary media contact after a motion was made by Foster, however, it was later withdrawn.

No consensus was reached, but the board also discussed developing regular media releases outlining the town’s official position as well as creating a list of talking points to work off of when speaking with the press or the public, both of which would be approved by Moss.

The board did agree that its current position is not to accept any offer from MGM until it received information and recommendations from the traffic and public safety consultants it hired in order to formulate a counter proposal.

Crane said results from those studies should be available by the week of Dec. 16. While MGM has set an internal deadline of Dec. 15 to have agreements in place, Crane said he felt the town would still be negotiating in good faith by operating within the state legislation, which calls for a Dec. 31 deadline for license applications.

MGM’s latest offer included $50,000 for consultant and legal fees accrued and a $75,000 annual mitigation payment, both of which were in line with the company’s initial proposal.

MGM also stated in the offer it would designate Longmeadow as a surrounding community at the signing of the agreement and payments to the town would begin when MGM starts collecting revenue after the casino opens.

A “look-back” approach proposed in the initial offer would still be utilized to measure and renew the direct impacts of the project and indirect costs would not be covered. For major negative impacts, the town would have to show that costs exceed $500,000.

Any mitigation payments resulting from the look-back would be offset by the annual $75,000 payment and if the impact costs prove to be higher than $75,000, the town must first apply to get payment from the mitigation fund established by the state. Only after failing to receive that funding would the town be able to receive additional payment directly from MGM.

Select Board Chair Marie Angelides commented that this proposal was worse for the town than the initial one, a sentiment Gold agreed with, commenting that it appeared they closed some apparent gaps that left the gaming company vulnerable.

Angelides also took time at the meeting to talk about other surrounding community agreements and the definition of a surrounding community. She reminded the board that, proximity is not a factor and being a town that abuts the municipality in which a gaming development is placed does not guarantee the distinction.

She pointed to Fitchburg, a town that borders Leominster, a north-central Massachusetts city that is the proposed site for a slots parlor. Despite sharing a border with Leominster to the north, the MGC determined it was not a surrounding community. Meanwhile, Bolton, a town that sits to the east with Lancaster sandwiched in between, was designated a surrounding community.

Angelides explained that it was her understanding from reviewing the MGC’s proceedings that traffic was being heavily considered in designations and it was determined there would be a far greater impact in that regard for Bolton, which sits on Route 117, which connects with 495 in town and goes through Leominster, than Fitchburg. Fitchburg, she said, stressed potential housing issues, but they were determined not grave enough to merit surrounding community status.

She went on to say it was her opinion that the fact that traffic is such a large point of emphasis could be beneficial for Longmeadow, who must stress the potential impacts to traffic both on Interstate 91 as well as Route 5.

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s traffic consultant will present the findings of its peer review of MGM’s traffic study at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 10. The board will meet next on Dec. 11.