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More public comment should be sought on gaming proposals, councilman says

More public comment should be sought before a county selection committee recommends to the St. Louis County Port Authority one of three proposals for a casino in south county, according to County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county.

County Executive Charlie Dooley recently informed Campisi if the councilman did not support the presence of a casino in his district, Dooley would direct the St. Louis County Economic Council to "cease further action" and stop evaluating the three casino proposals for south county.

Campisi replied that the people of St. Louis County should make that decision, not him.

Three developers responded in November to the Port Authority's request for proposals for a casino in south county. Two of those developers submitted companion proposals, also responding to the city's similar request for proposals.

Harrah's submitted the only single proposal for a location in south county, west of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge in Oakville.

Isle of Capri Inc. proposed a casino just north of the Harrah's location and also west of the Jefferson Barracks bridge, while Pinnacle Entertainment is looking to build a casino in Lemay at the former National Lead Site. Both Isle of Capri and Pinnacle submitted companion proposals to also build casinos in Laclede's Landing in the city.

But before the Selection Committee delved too deeply into their evaluation process, Dooley attempted to contact Campisi through a letter to see if the councilman supported the construction of a casino in south county.

The selection committee, comprised of county officials and a Lemay Chamber of Commerce official, is scheduled to submit its recommendation during a Port Authority meeting at 4 p.m. today — Jan. 15 — in the training room on the first floor of the World Trade Center, 121 S. Meramec Ave., Clayton.

"I have been advised that there is significant disagreement in south county on whether there should be a gaming operation at all," Dooley wrote Campisi in a Dec. 11 letter. "Therefore, I am reluctant to go forward with evaluation unless you can confirm your interest in having such a development in South County; there is no point spending time and money upon review of the proposals if you are not supportive of a gaming facility."

In that letter, Dooley gave Campisi until Dec. 15 to respond, but Campisi already had left town for the holidays and sent no response.

Just one day before representatives from the three casino developers were scheduled to appear before the selection committee, Dooley sent a second letter to Campisi telling him the public meeting would go on as scheduled Dec. 18, but the county executive would stop the evaluation process without Campisi's support.

"I believe it would be unwise and a waste of resources to allow any further evaluation, or a recommendation to the St. Louis County Port Authority and subsequently to the St. Louis County Council, without knowing whether you are supportive of the possibility of a casino in South County," Dooley wrote Campisi asking him to respond by Friday, Jan. 9. "Absent confirmation that you support this development concept, I will advise the Economic Council that no further action should be taken at this point."

But Campisi told the Call that such an important decision is not his to make alone and he refuses to put his stamp of approval on the idea until he and the other councilmen receive more public feedback. He noted that it wasn't until the week of Jan. 1 that he received any information he had requested on the different casino proposals and he needed more than just a few days to review it.

"I was never asked about this before the RFP went out in 2003," the councilman told the Call. "The Economic Council never said anything to me back then. For me to jump in right now would not be prudent. They need to continue on with their process. They need to get the information down to us so we can review and so we can bring it to the south county people."

In Campisi's reply dated Jan. 9, he wrote no council member alone should make the decision, especially with the absence of any public hearings in south county conducted on the matter.

"If he wants to tell the Economic Council to pull the plug, that's not my decision," he told the Call. "If he wants to do it, that's fine. As county executive he has every right ... This is not about what Campisi wants. This is about what the people of south county want."

Asked why Dooley felt it was so crucial to gain Campisi's support, the councilman answered, "Well, it's not because he's such a nice guy. It's political.''

"Perhaps promises have been made to gaming developers to give them some indication of their success by mid-January and that is driving your insistence on a firm position from me by Jan. 9," Campisi wrote in his reply to Dooley. "I believe this is a very significant public policy step for the County, and deadlines created without full public input and careful document review by all council members are exclusionary and unwise."

The only selection committee member from south county, however, said he believes that public input has been gathered, but the bulk of public input should be gathered once a proposal reaches the County Council.

Lemay Chamber of Commerce President Greg Hayden has sat in on at least six committee meetings, including one all-day work session in an effort to narrow down the casino developers.

Asked if enough public feedback had been gathered for the committee to make a selection, Hayden answered, "I think so. I also think once it gets to the County Council level ... they do have public sessions. I think, at that point, people would express their opinions. Our job is to evaluate it from a business standpoint and to find the best proposal for the south county area ... We've been steered off the road a little bit, but any input I get, positive or negative, I throw on the table to enlighten the committee."

Even though committee members have had a little less than a month to digest, evaluate and consider the three proposals, Hayden told the Call he did not believe he was being rushed into making a decision. However, just days before the Jan. 15 selection deadline, he mentioned he still hadn't made his decision. He added that he still was being presented with new information last week, based on requests the committee had made, and he didn't anticipate making his final decision until a day or two before Jan. 15.

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