‘We are 100% minority owned, but you rejected us with no explanation’: Potawatomi casino proposal voted down again by Waukegan aldermen

Chicago Tribune 3 weeks ago

The Waukegan City Council on Monday granted a requested second vote on a rejected Potawatomi casino proposal, but the outcome was the same — the Wisconsin-based group was soundly defeated in its bid to become a contender for a new casino at Fountain Square.

The council voted 6-3 Monday against forwarding the Potawatomi Waukegan Casino proposal to the Illinois Gaming Board. Three other proposals that were approved last week were sent to the board for certification Monday morning, according to Mayor Sam Cunningham.

Potawatomi requested a rehearing and a new vote after claiming the city violated the Open Meetings Act by not allowing public comment when the initial vote was taken, and that a consultant’s report included flawed information about the Potawatomi proposal.

On Monday night, the council did vote to allow Potawatomi a second vote based on its request.

But Potawatomi picked up just one vote Monday over the initial 7-2 vote against its package on Oct. 17, when proposals from Full House Resorts, North Point Casino and Rivers Casino were approved by the council and sent to the gaming board for further vetting and consideration.

Prior to Monday’s vote, Potawatomi filed a lawsuit in Lake County Circuit Court claiming that Waukegan violated the Open Meetings Act on Thursday, and that city consultant C.H. Johnson’s report on the Potawatomi proposal included serious inaccuracies.

Nonetheless, after allowing Forest County Potawatomi Community Attorney General Jeff Crawford and other supporters to make their case to the council during public comment time on the agenda, Potawatami was again shot down when the vote was called.

After the vote, Crawford said the Potawatomi Community lawsuit against the city will move forward. But on Tuesday, Potawatomi spokesman George Ermert said the lawsuit was withdrawn because the city had complied with its main request by taking another vote.

Ermert said the Potawatomi casino group is evaluating the situation, and it is not known whether or not a new lawsuit will be filed.

The withdrawn suit had sought a halt in the casino selection process due to the city’s rejection, which Potawatomi representatives have pinned primarily on a consultant’s report that was also questioned by some council members.

Ald. Lynn Florian, 8th, said before the Thursday vote that the information in the report showed that both Potawatomi and Rivers scored well throughout the reports on important issues such as revenue and jobs, but that didn’t seem to be reflected in the rankings, which brought applause from many in attendance.

On Monday, Crawford told the council one of the alleged errors was especially significant, stating that the casino had offered $5.6 million for the Fountain Square property. Crawford said the group had clarified that its offer was $12 million because its initial proposal was apparently misunderstood, and the $5.6 million offer listed in the report was never made.

He also said Potawatomi was a community, not a corporation, and has a “20-year track record” of revitalizing brownfields in Wisconsin in conjunction with casino operations, and had made an offer to help facilitate redevelopment efforts in the city’s downtown.

“The consultant said we were qualified, yet you rejected us with no explanation,” Crawford said. “We are 100% minority owned, but you rejected us with no explanation.”

Ald. Gregory Moisio, 3rd, came to Potawatomi’s defense prior to the vote, stating that the group’s clarified offer of $12 million was the offer all along.

“It was never five (million dollars); it was 12 (million dollars),” Moisio said. “Their proposal was misrepresented.”

Florian said she agreed with Moisio’s statement, and that the vote should be redone,“and let the chips fall where they may, no pun intended.”

The only change in the vote was that Florian voted in favor of Potawatomi on Monday.

Other council members voted the same way as they did Thursday, with Mosio and Edith Newsome, 5th, voting in favor along with Florian. Voting against Potawatomi were Sylvia Sims Bolton, 1st; Patrick Seger, 2nd; Roudell Kirkwood, 4th; Keith Turner, 6th; Felix Rivera, 7th; and Ann Taylor, 9th.

Moisio said the city already forwarded three proposals to the Gaming Board, and it might as well send the fourth to let that board address the situation.

Otherwise, Moisio, referring to possible lawsuits, said the city “can start writing checks to lawyers. They argue for a living."

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