Local families gathered for Thanksgiving to spend time with family and count their blessings.
While we’re sure banter ranged from Bedlam football to the presidential election, it’s a good bet that having a casino in Enid’s future also was discussed.
Earlier this month, the Enid City Commission voted to approve a $233,000 purchase of property for the expansion of Government Springs South Park, near 8th and Garriott.
At that time, City Attorney Andrea Chism said all of the acquired property would be added to the park but noted it was commercially zoned, “so if the city had the opportunity to do something for economic development purposes, it can do that as well.”
On Tuesday, Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell told the Enid News & Eagle that two other commissioners were working with a potential casino developer.
Generally, the content of an executive session is not discussed publicly. However, Ezzell, an outspoken casino opponent, said he felt disclosing details would be in the best interest of the city before the proposal moves forward.
Although there is no proposal in writing, Ezzell said the outline of a deal was discussed in which the city would swap Government Springs South for some amount of money to be invested in a replacement ballpark somewhere else in Enid. Ezzell said the city engineering department, at the request of Ward 2 Commissioner Aaron Brownlee, mocked up a rough design showing several soccer, football and softball fields in a future park south of Oakwood Mall/Lowe's. The casino paying the city an offset for sales tax that they are not required to collect also was discussed.
Ezzell said Brownlee and Ward 4 Commissioner Rodney Timm explained during the executive session that they had been working with this developer for several months under a nondisclosure agreement.
Ezzell also said Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser mentioned being approached by the developer about potentially selling a medical complex he owns at 9th and Garriott. The commissioner said an attorney affiliated with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians tribe also discussed potentially purchasing other privately owned surrounding properties.
When interviewed by the News & Eagle on Tuesday, Brownlee said he knew of no current plans or proposals regarding economic development with this property with or without a casino. Timm also said he was not aware of a development in the works. When asked if it was a casino, Timm said "no."
Obviously, not all of the commissioners’ statements can be correct.
On the Enid News Facebook page, one reader posted “it really is hard to get ‘facts straight’ when executive session is used to keep them secret.”
Vanhooser, who had no comment when interviewed Tuesday, replied on social media that he would not divulge confidential information discussed in executive session. To avoid conflict of interest, Vanhooser posted that he would recuse himself from any votes involving this property.
“There are many many more pieces of information, and facts, which would fully explain this particular situation,” Vanhooser posted.
Enid residents are eager to learn more.
Would Enid benefit from having a casino? Or, does a casino merely take money from local gamblers — often people with less money to begin with — and give it to the tribe? Or will Enid become “Pottersville,” as one reader remarked?
These are all questions that need answers before the Enid City Commission signs a deal to hand over a city park along Highway 412 for a casino. It’s certainly a non-traditional form of “economic development” and a proposal that needs public discussion rather than private negotiations.
Although private business transactions are due a certain amount of confidentiality, using government incentives and land for a proposed casino makes this a very public matter. We look forward to public answers from City Manager Jerald Gilbert next week.