Pinnacle's $4.3 million for schools never 'guaranteed,' Dooley says
Pinnacle Entertainment's commitment to place $4.3 million annually into an education foundation for south county school districts is a "goal," but cannot be guaranteed, according to County Executive Charlie Dooley.
Pinnacle is seeking a gaming license by the Missouri Gaming Commission so that it can construct a casino at the former National Lead Site in Lemay, of which it has been endorsed by the St. Louis County Economic Council and Port Authority.
The St. Louis County Council recently approved a resolution that supports Pinnacle's gaming proposal, but has yet to approve a proposed lease agreement between the Port Authority and Pinnacle.
Councilmen have voted to hold the second reading of Bill No. 165, which would authorize the agreement if Pinnacle is granted a license by the Gaming Commission.
County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, requested that councilmen table the bill again during their June 15 session because he had not yet received sufficient legal information regarding Pinnacle's education foundation.
Under an "Intent of Education Foundation," a document created by Pinnacle after Campisi's request for the foundation, $4.3 million would be set aside annually and then dispersed to the Hancock, Affton, Bayless, Mehlville and Lindbergh school districts. The document suggests that the funds would be collected for the foundation in lieu of taxes, but councilmen have questioned the legality of the foundation.
Councilmen voted 6-1 to hold the bill another week. Councilman Kathleen "Kelly" Burkett, D-north county, opposed the motion, while Dooley raised concerns regarding the delay of the bill's consideration.
"I'm concerned because, Councilman Campisi, I don't know what additional information I can provide to you," Dooley said. "... We have given you all the information that you could possibly need ..."
Information is still needed, Campisi explained, that would hold Pinnacle accountable for establishing the foundation.
"I have been asking for information about the foundation probably for about the last eight weeks," Campisi said, noting that St. Louis County Economic Council Chief Executive Officer Denny Coleman had promised to meet with him in order to discuss the legality of such a foundation, but no meeting had taken place.
During the meeting, which was scheduled to take place two weeks ago, he said, attorneys were to be present. The 6th District councilman said he particularly is interested in lawyers establishing groundwork for the foundation that would tie it into the contract with Pinnacle.
"A lot of promises have been made to the people here in Lemay and they stand to lose a lot if this falls through. And to blow this council off, the way it's been blown off, as far as getting information from the Economic Council, I think it's just unheard of," he said.
"Every time I call to ask for information, we're just not receiving it. And I'm tired of it."
Holding up a copy of a written explanation of the education foundation, Campisi asked why that explanation could not be tied to the contract with Pinnacle.
"Why can't we get this type of information sent down to us to tie this contract into a foundation for Lemay so that the $4.3 million flows through to it as promised by Pinnacle, the gaming company that wants to be on the National Lead Site. Why can't we do that?" Campisi asked.
But Dooley disagreed. Dooley said, "Mr. Campisi, apparently this may be too complex for you, I'm not sure ..."
"Now you're getting — that's pretty bad," Campisi told Dooley.
The county executive continued, "You have gotten all the legal information. We have (worked) to the best of our ability to make sure you get that information ... Yes, we want that foundation to come that is in that proposal and we are committed to that situation ... We can't tell you something that we don't know ... If you want to say that there is some additional information, you can say that if you want to, but it's not true."
Attaching the foundation to the Pinnacle contract would not be appropriate now because the county doesn't know what form or organization the foundation will have, County Counselor Pat Redington said. Redington told councilmen Campisi did not need a response from Coleman.
"Pinnacle certainly cannot provide that they were going to give a certain amount of money to a foundation," the county counselor said.
"All they have ever committed to is that they would work with the Economic Council to try to maximize all possible benefits for the school districts of south county ... There is no lawyer who is going to be able to tell you, 'This is a certainty. You'll have it. The foundation articles will look like this. The setup will look like this.'"
She told councilmen, "You're going to have to make a decision" without knowing for certain whether a tax-exempt organization or a foundation can be set up to produce the results that are "everyone's goal," but have not been guaranteed.
Councilman Greg Quinn, R-west County, agreed the document should be produced.
"I think it is a complex issue and I think it is something that deserves a thorough examination," he said.
However, Dooley contended he and other county officials had been upfront that the foundation was a "goal" of the proposal, but never could be guaranteed since the inception of the foundation concept.
"Now, Councilman Campisi wanted a guarantee and he was told from the very beginning, we cannot guarantee," he said. "... No one was ever guaranteed anything."
Campisi then directed his comments to Coleman, who was sitting in the audience.
"Denny, we sat down at a table at the restaurant along with the people from Lemay and you asked me, 'Do you want me to start the foundation,' and we all said yes," Campisi said.
"I have not heard anything back from you as far as the foundation goes with any type of groundwork ... started or anything you have right now that you can show us. If that's not misleading, I don't know what is. Constantly bombarding the newspapers with the foundation is definitely misleading the public out there with the belief that this would really work."
"And I do understand this, Charlie," he added.
The second reading of the bill was held, but council Chairman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, proposed that a resolution be presented to the council during its June 22 meeting that would address the foundation.
Campisi told the Call if he received no additional information about the education foundation by the Tuesday, June 22, council meeting — after the Call went to press — then he would ask the council to hold the bill again.