Some aldermen in no hurry on casino

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NATCHEZ — A couple of Natchez aldermen say they are in no hurry to vote on the proposed third amendment to the city’s lease with Roth Hill casino developers.

The board will discuss the amendment with outside legal counsel at its meeting today. Mayor Jake Middleton said Monday that the board could possibly vote on the amendment today.

Ward 2 Alderman James “Ricky” Gray said the board has not had adequate time to discuss the amendment with Scott Andress, the attorney the board voted to hire last week to advise the board on the amendment. Gray said the aldermen have also not had a chance to discuss the pros and cons of the lease with each other.

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Gray said it is Mayor Jake Middleton, not the board, who has chosen to have the board meet recently to continually discuss the amendment. Gray said, personally, he is not in a hurry to vote on the amendment.

“I don’t understand why people are in such a hurry to make a decision when it’s going to affect property in the city for the next 99 years,” he said.

The board is expected to meet with Andress in a closed-door executive session today. Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she understands that residents want an open meeting, but she said the executive session will allow the board to get the best legal advice.

“We need to take our time making this decision,” Mathis said. “And we cannot necessarily get the best legal advice in an open meeting because that would allow the casino’s attorney to hear the advice we are getting from our attorney.”

Middleton said he is not rushing a vote on the amendment, but he said he believes the sooner the lease is finalized the better.

“We need to get this behind us and move onto something else,” he said. “We have been working on this for a very long time.”

Middleton said the third amendment clarifies the “open-ended” provisions in the original lease. He said some of the amendment’s provisions have been proposed at the request of the casino’s funding sources.

“For the last few years (the developers) have been trying to get funding,” Middleton said. “Now they have it, and it’s time to clarify things that were left open-ended.”

Gray, who was as an alderman when the original lease was signed, said he believes the city should hold the casino developers to the original lease. He said he is not comfortable with the provisions of the proposed their amendment.

“I believe once you sign your name, and you say you’re financially stable, you should live up to it,” Gray said. “I’m in a position to do what is best for Natchez and the citizens, and I believe that would be to try to hold them up to their end of the bargain.”