Once again the specter of the proposed Timbisha Shoshone casino project was not listed as a regular agenda item, but managed to haunt the Ridgecrest City Council meeting Wednesday anyway.

Although not discussed publicly by council, the casino topic bracketed the meeting as a closed session discussion item.

Pending litigation between the tribe and the city was the only closed session agenda item listed, for a closed session that began at 5 p.m. and lasted around an hour and ten minutes. 

Assistant City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen reported that "there was discussion with staff, and the closed session was adjourned and will reconvene after the meeting."

Casino developer Nigel White, who has been working with the tribe from the inception of the project, gave an impassioned speech during the public comment portion of the meeting. Public comment covers items not listed on the agenda.

White first handed out a "one-page white paper" to the council.

White described himself as manager of the proposed casino and entertainment complex, then launched into his speech.

He said more than once that the tribe intends to fight for recognition of their municipal services agreement and that he believes that the majority of the people in the community support the casino. White's contention is that the project is only opposed by a very vocal minority, including several council members.

'We will do everything in our power to protect our economic [MSA]'

"We have an approved MSA agreement and we also believe that the silent and quiet majority supports this project and its economic benefits," he said. "You have heard me say numerous times that we will do everything in our power to protect our economic municipal services agreement."

White mentioned the arbitration between the city and the tribe, which was presumably the topic of the closed session meetings before and after the regular council meeting.
"On the arbitration side, on the MSA side, the city ignored the 'meet and confer' request by the tribe which we believe was a strategic mistake," he said. White added that he believes the tribe has a strong case and he believes the city is risking significant costs for arbitration, including potentially the tribe's attorney fee.

According to White, another party to the proposed deal is planning to file a lawsuit over the land sale sometime in the upcoming week.
"Why fight an approved contract with a very strong inherent risk of losing not one but both cases?" White said, "Do the citizens of Ridgecrest want an expensive legal fight when they have great economic benefits hanging out there?"

He reiterated his earlier statement that he believes that more community members support than oppose the casino.
"We believe the majority of citizens, businesses and civic organizations actually support this project. I would like to respectfully suggest that the city council stop listening to a vocal minority and do what's right for the city and its coffers,"
Scott Miller also spoke up in favor of the project.
"When there's more people, more businesses will come," Miller said.