NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — With no public advanced notice, Norfolk City Council voted to form a Mayors Committee on Gaming to educate the public on gaming’s impacts public safety, health and welfare.
The resolution appointed 11 members to the committee that is charged with studying the “impact of current and proposed gaming activities in the City of Norfolk, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region.
Mayor Kenny Alexander said the idea came from a citizen.
“You have lots of gaming already operating in Virginia,” Alexander said. “What we decided to do is provide information for citizens to have a better understanding.”
Alexander said the commission will have speakers and go on field trips to gauge impacts.
This all happened the same night that Citizens for an Informed Norfolk — a group speaking out against the way the casino proposal was handled — submitted its petition signed by thousands to force City Council to vote again on selling the land to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.
Council voted Sept. 24 to enter into an agreement that would eventually allow the tribe to purchase more than 13 acres of land at Harbor Park for a resort and casino.
City staff said the project could potentially host 3,500-4,500 slot machines, 500 four-diamond hotel rooms, on-site restaurants, a spa, and an entertainment venue. The tribe would be responsible for all costs of the project, including infrastructure, utility improvements and flood mitigation.
Petitioners have taken issue with the transparency surrounding the deal considering that the terms of the deal were not released until two weeks ahead of the vote with no feasibility studies.
In an October 1 special session, Mayor Alexander expressed he was disappointed with the overall communication of the project to citizens.
However nearly two months later, representatives with Citizens for an Informed Norfolk — who say they are not anti-casino, just anti-lack of government transparency — find nothing has changed.
“What troubles me is … we just saw that resolution, we didn’t even get a copy of it,” said Jackie Glass. “It’s things like that I’m looking at.”
Council member Andria McClellan, who has been outspoken against the process and was the sole “no” vote Sept. 24, said she was blindsided by the resolution forming the committee. She said it was never discussed by the council, although council members Tommy Smigiel and Mamie Johnson are on it.
Following the meeting, City Clerk Allan Bull could not answer why the resolution was not provided ahead of time.
He did, however, reveal that public hearings for the new vote on whether to sell the land to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe are set for 6 p.m. Dec. 16 at Granby High School and Dec. 19. at Lake Taylor.
The Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee released several studies on Monday, including one looking at the future of gaming expansion in the state. The study said a casino could employ at least 1,000 people, but warned against any hopes for high-paying jobs.