No action taken on casino yet

Published 12:05 am Saturday, February 11, 2012

NATCHEZ — After spending more than an hour in a closed-door session, the Natchez Board of Aldermen took no action at a specially called meeting Friday about the second draft of the third amendment to the city’s lease with Roth Hill casino developers.

The board ultimately voted to continue the meeting until 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Natchez residents packed the Natchez City Council Chambers with standing room only for the meeting. Mayor Jake Middleton opened the meeting by asking for a motion that the board privately discuss moving the talks to executive session.

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He said that while in executive session, the board would make a conference call to the city’s special legal counsel about the proposed second draft of the third lease amendment.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said the executive session would give the board the opportunity to discuss the amendment with special counsel without the casino developers learning details of the city’s discussion with its attorney.

“This is not a sense of we’re going back there with the developers,” he said. “We’re talking to our legal counsel to understand (the amendment).”

Dillard said the more he looks at the amendment, the more complex it seems to him. He said he was convinced that it would take an attorney with gaming and real estate expertise to present the amendment to the aldermen in a way they could fully understand it.

“I hope you can understand that,” Dillard said. “We’re looking at both the long-range and short-range aspects of this.”

Ward 2 Alderman James “Ricky” Gray told Middleton he was unaware the city had officially hired an outside attorney to advise the board on the amendment.

“You need to get that straight in the minutes, because I wasn’t aware we had hired an attorney,” Gray said.

The board voted 4-1 for the determination to go into executive session, with Gray voting against the motion. Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis was not present for the vote.

After the determination, Middleton asked for a motion to go into executive session.

Dillard made the motion and added that the executive session would give the board an opportunity to finalize the employment contract with the special counsel. The board voted 4-1 to go into executive session. Gray voted against the motion.

Dillard then made a motion that the board officially hire Scott Andress of Balch & Bingham in Jackson as special counsel. The motion passed 4-1, with Gray voting against it.

Seemingly angry and confused crowd members made several comments as the board members made their way into the conference room for the executive session.

“They’re going to sell the city down the river,” one crowd member shouted.

Mathis arrived to the meeting approximately 15 minutes after the board went into executive session.

Middleton said after the executive session that the board would take no action on the amendment.

“We still have a lot of things to work out,” Middleton said. “I want you to know we asked some pretty tough questions in there because we know what your concerns are.”

The board voted to close the meeting and did not open the meeting for public comment.

Middleton said after the meeting that Andress would be at the board’s meeting on Tuesday to discuss the amendment. Middleton said Andress’ billable rate is approximately $400 an hour.

The aldermen will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday in the Natchez City Council Chambers.