Youíll say that what follows is self-serving, and youíll of course be partially correct. But hear me out and I hope youíll at least understand my stance, even if you donít agree.
Earlier in the year, the St. Mary Parish Council voted to send a proposal to the ballot July 15 for a riverboat casino in Amelia. The only dissenting vote was from Peter Soprano, who routinely votes against gaming issues.
That puts the matter squarely at the feet of voters which, on the first glance, doesnít seem like a bad thing. Itís the American way, right? Of course it is, but thatís not really the issue at hand.
Itís the way it was done that irritates me. You see, it is my firm belief that I have been done a disservice as a citizen of St. Mary Parish first, and a citizen of the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana second.
As a Chitimacha, I am also an American, a Louisiana and a resident of St. Mary Parish. Therefore I should be represented by the Parish President, three at-large councilmen and one single-member councilman.
We can play the who-said what-was-said thing all day, but my leaders at the Chitimacha level say they were not contacted by any of those five persons supposedly representing us regarding the issue and the vote, and I will take their word on it.
Understand that we, as a government and a business share a dual role. We are, essentially, a small municipality in the parish, like Franklin or Baldwin or Berwick. We are also a business, the second largest employer in the parish, in fact.
Imagine if the City of Franklin were somehow the owners and managers of a business that employees hundreds and hundreds of residents Ė and the parish council voted in a contentious item of potential competition without even giving them a heads-up that it was coming?
Itís like giving a friend a tomahawk as a symbolic and useful gift of friendship and having your friend use it against you.
Itís a thorny issue, I know. In the obverse, the argument can be made that the parish council and its members are not legally bound to notify tribal officials of the issues on their agenda. It can also be said that all the parish did was send the matter over to the voters, a purely American thing to do.
Yet the Amelia riverboat people were allowed to make their flowery pitch to the parish council complete with projections and promises and dollar signs flying around their heads, but tribal officials did not have the chance to give any input whatsoever.
Iíll tell you what we do give, though. About a million and a half bucks a year to the parish.
Most people donít understand that. They donít realize that after the last compact negotiations between the parish and the tribe, Washington made it abundantly clear that we donít have to give squat to anybody. Thatís a tax, or a fee, whatever you want to call it, and thatís illegal, they said.
We did it anyway, because for the past decade thatís how weíve chosen to do business in the parish. We have tried Ė and succeeded Ė in being a very good neighbor here.
As evidence of our good neighborly position, consider $1.5 million a year in voluntary revenue the parish and municipalities receive, the tremendous number of dollars in salaries coming out of both our gaming operations and tribal government employees. The money we spend on services and contractors. The economic impact weíve had on St. Mary Parish all the way back to 1992 is considerable.
Considerable, to the tune of the salaries coming out of the casino alone totaling $28 million a year, and 70 percent of those are St. Mary Parish residents.
Considerable to the tune of $450,000 to pay off sewer bonds early so that Charenton area residents could have a sanitary system years before they were expected to, and before you say we just did it for ourselves, we have only just begun to contribute a small amount of wastewater to the system.
The list goes on and on.
But tribal officials say they didnít even get a phone call.
Parish government isnít normally in a position to promote or dissuade competition in business. Parish government hasnít a lot of say if, for instance, a new car dealership comes into town, or a new bank. But because the riverboat had to go before the voters for approval, the council had to act on it. Perhaps it was the right thing to do to put the item on the ballot. But the council and subsequently the people of St. Mary Parish should have heard the tribeís input. Might not have made a bit of difference in the result. But good neighbors show each other a little more courtesy where I come from, that being the Rez.
Itís not even a matter of having a letter on official parish letterhead, or an official, documented phone call from some suit in the courthouse. Just someone to call and say, "Hey, thought you might like to knowÖ"
Itís really too late to say much. Iím sure that, given a chance, our people could have come up with an impressive presentation of what our business operations have done for St. Mary Parish and its residents. Iím sure many would be shocked at the colossal amount of money weíve contributed, not to mention intangibles far too numerous to list.
The rat-a-tat-tat of the rumor mill has it that several dealings on the eastern end of St. Mary Parish fired up the vote, with a comment even being circulated that the parish doesnít need Chitimachaís pocket change anymore.
A million and a half bucks a year is pocket change, eh?
Pardon me. Is that a tomahawk sticking out of my back?