Social and Political Commentary

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Van Campen's role in Casino talks needs clarification

... Melrose City Solicitor is also three-time president of Aldermen in Everett, a location under consideration for a casino

by Joe Sullivan

A front-page story in the January 17 edition of the Melrose Weekly News reported that Mayor Dolan would be asking the state Gaming Commission to consider the impact that proposed casinos for Revere and Everett would have on Melrose.

The city had petitioned the Gaming Commission to make Melrose a designated as a “surrounding community” of the casinos now proposed for Everett and Revere. Melrose's petitions were successful and the city has negotiated agreements with both proposed casinos. The agreements are to compensate Melrose for the negative effects that either casino could have on our city.

Only one of the casinos will receive a gaming license. Which casino is selected will have a huge impact. Malden's  agreement with Wynn is for an upfront payment of $1 million plus $1 million annually. After the casino's 6th year of operation Malden gets an additional $1.2 annually with a increase 2.5% each year. Also included are hiring preferences for permanent jobs. But Malden only gets this arrangement if Wynn gets approval for a state gaming license. This agreement was reached in October 2013.

Wynn not receiving a gaming license may not be a calamity for Malden. A January 28, 2014 story in Malden Patch said that Malden had also reached an agreement with Mohegan Sun for its proposed Suffolk Downs casino. Malden has 30 days to "fine tune" the agreement so there has been no public description of it.   

Melrose also designated a surrounding community of both casinos

Not every city shares in the big money. The January 29 posting of the online publication Patch covered Mayor Dolan's announcement that Melrose will be a "surrounding community of the proposed Mohegan Sun proposed Suffolk Downs casino. Under this arrangement Melrose would receive $50,000 annually along with some other benefits.

Later, the January 30 edition of The Melrose Free Press said the city had also reached an agreement with Wynn's proposed casino in Everett. The agreement does not contain a $50,000 annual impact payment that Mohegan Sun's does.

What is surprising about the agreements is how quickly they were reached. Mayor Dolan petitioned the Gaming Commission on January 10. By the end of the month the petitions had not only been approved but agreement had been reached with two different casino companies.

In his announcement of the Mohegan Sun payment Mayor Dolan said that the Melrose Legal and Planning departments had done a great deal of work in advocating for Melrose's interest. When did they have time to do the work and who did it?
City Solicitor Robert Van Campen is  Melrose's top Legal Counsel. What was his role in preparing the petitions and how is he participating in the work of advocating for Melrose interests? Was he a member of the group working for these Melrose interests in the petition to the Everett casino?        

The questions are important because Melrose City Hall is not Van Campen's only relationship with city government. He maintains a high political profile in his nearby home town of Everett where he is an Alderman. It is hard to see why holding offices in both cities is not a conflict of interest when it comes to the casinos.

Can  our City Solicitor be impartial as to which casino gets a gaming license? How can he support the payments to Melrose that will come only if there is no casino in Everett?

Not only is Van Campen ineligible to negotiate for Melrose he cannot be an adviser to, or plan for anyone who will be a negotiator. It is surprising that he is writing letters to the Melrose Aldermen and Paul Brodeur our state representative about Mayor Dolan's reasons for submitting the petitions according to the January  Melrose Weekly News story. Additionally, it was Van Campen's emails explaining issues with the agreements that the Free Press quoted in its January story.    

In Everett politics since 1999

Van Campen has a long history in Everett politics. In 1999 he was elected to the Common Council and in 2001. At age 26, he was one of the youngest candidates ever to be elected to the Board of Aldermen. He has been elected three times to be its president.

In November last year he ran for Mayor of Everett losing to incumbent Carlo DeMaria. Although a proposed casino for Everett had a high level of interest to the voters it was not an issue in determining the mayoral race. That's because in a city wide referendum in June of the same year 86% of the 6,153 voters approved Wynn’s proposal to build a casino. Only 833 people voted against it.

A casino was a very popular proposal and the only meaningful debate between the mayoral candidates was “What to do with the city’s share of the casino haul?” as the headline said in the Everett Independent, the city’s weekly newspaper.

Big win for Everett if Wynn gets okay

The “haul” for Everett is enormous. There will be a $30 million payment to the city if Wynn gets the gaming license.   

During his mayoral campaign Van Campen set up a web site to inform the voters of his positions. The site carried the title “Robert Van Campen A Mayor for a Better Everett." He emphasized the importance of the thousands of jobs that Steve Wynn said the casino would provide for Everett citizens.  Another benefit he praised was the tax revenue stream created by the casino.  He also cited the increase in customers coming to visit the casino and companies and that entrepreneurs will look to Everett as an optimal place to relocate or open new businesses.

Winners and losers not confined to casino gambling

At least some of the anticipated benefits for Everett or in Revere will be coming from some other community which will lose them. The petitions to be a “surrounding community” deal with the privations that will result when a community’s jobs and businesses are affected by the benefits  that will occur when a neighboring casino opens.

It doesn’t appear that one person can promote the benefits that an Everett casino provides and, at the same time, ask for payments to Melrose for privations that these benefits cause.  But that’s what happens when you’re Alderman in the city where the benefits occur and when you’re City Solicitor in the city where the benefits will be detriments.

This is not an issue about Robert Van Campen’s personal integrity. It’s what happens when two issues conflict with one another. Mayor Dolan should relieve Van Campen of this conflict and appoint someone else to deal with the casinos.

February 7, 2014



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