« Indiana Government - Revised IEDC bill now available | Main | Indiana Courts - Footnotes in Judicial Opinions »

Friday, January 07, 2005

Indiana Government - Legislative Investigation into Trump Casino Deal Takes Interesting Turn

Earlier this week a number of papers reported on the legislative interest in the state Gaming Commission's selection of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. for a casino in Orange County. Here is a quote from Jennifer Whitson's story Wednesday in the Evansville Courier&Press:

The Indiana Legislature isn't finished with "The Donald" just yet.

The Republican in charge of the Indiana House committee that reviews gambling bills said Tuesday he wants the state Gaming Commission not to sign any agreement with Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. for a casino in Orange County. Rep. Bob Alderman, R-Fort Wayne, also said he wants to review the entire selection process. * * *

Alderman said he was concerned about Trump's financial situation but also troubled by details of the selection process. Asked if he was alleging wrongdoing, Alderman said he wanted to save some surprises for a committee meeting Thursday, but he promised to ask some "very probing questions." * * *

Alderman said he wants to hold a hearing next week on a bill he is offering to dismiss the current members of the Indiana Gaming Commission on Feb. 1 and allow Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels to immediately fill the key commission with his appointees.

Currently, the seven gaming commissioners are appointed by the governor to staggered three-year terms. Alderman also wants to eliminate the requirement that certain commissioners come from communities that have riverboats. "To me that seems like a conflict in itself," Alderman said.

Daniels also has questioned the selection process that led to Trump winning the right to contract for the Orange County casino, saying it should be more transparent. Alderman said he has invited the two groups who were not chosen, Lost River Development LLC and Orange County Development LLC, to testify at Thursday's hearing.

When Trump announced its bankruptcy in November, Rep. Jerry Denbo, D-French Lick, said all parties knew the bankruptcy was coming and it would not pose a problem.

But Tuesday, Denbo said the bankruptcy filing had bogged down the process, which is in negotiations between Trump and the Historic Hotel Preservation Commission, the group appointed to represent Orange County interests.

That was the prelude. Here is a quote from today's report, from the same reporter/paper:
Thursday's hearing to review details of the choice of Trump Hotels & Resorts Inc. to run the Orange County casino boiled down to a warning shot to both a local-based commission and Trump. And by the end of the day, Indiana Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels had called for the resignation of all members of the Indiana Gaming Commission and every other commission and board appointed by the governor.
From Michelle McNeil's story today in the Indianapolis Star:
On the same day lawmakers quizzed state officials for two hours on the French Lick casino deal, Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels said he, too, wants to review the decision to let Donald Trump's gambling company run the casino.

In addition, Daniels wants the seven members of the Indiana Gaming Commission, which oversees the regulation of casinos, to submit their resignations. He said he may not accept them all, but he wants to make his own picks for that board.

"Right now I simply want to know, and I think especially citizens in Orange County and the rest of Indiana want to know, is this company solvent or not?" Daniels said. "One thing no one wants is an operator who then fails and leaves us back at square one."

And Lesley Stedman Weidenbener reports today in the Louisville Courier Journal:
Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels called yesterday for the resignations of the Indiana Gaming Commission's seven members, even though none of their four-year terms are about to expire. At least one member said she probably would resign if asked.

Daniels, a Republican who takes office on Monday, said he wants his own appointees to review the commission's choice of Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts to develop a casino in Orange County. The company has filed for bankruptcy to reorganize its substantial debt. "There are many unanswered questions," Daniels said. * * *

But Daniels doesn't have the authority to simply appoint a new commission unless the members resign. In fact, he said he hopes that members of all state boards and commissions will offer their resignations. "I think that's the right thing to do," Daniels said. "Not all would be accepted, but we would like to be able to move and bring change to those bodies."

Such resignations would be unusual at the gaming commission. State law specifically allows its members to keep their seats, even when there's a change in the governor's office. The law requires bipartisan membership and permits a governor to remove members only if they neglect their duties or commit fraud or a crime.

That's different from the situation that applies to many boards and commissions, whose members serve at the will of the governor and typically are replaced by a new administration.

Alderman has filed legislation that would change the casino law and allow Daniels to appoint his own commission members. He said he plans to hear the bill in his committee this month.

Gaming Commission Chairman Don Vowels a member since the group's inception in 1993 said last month that the current law has helped keep politics out of the agency's deliberations. He said then that he did not plan to resign his position, but did not return calls to his office yesterday.

Two Southern Indiana residents Norman Melhiser of New Albany and Robert Barlow of Madison were recently appointed to the commission by Gov. Joe Kernan. They were not available for comment yesterday.

Marya Rose, who has served on the commission since 2002, said she understands why Daniels would want to appoint his own members. Rose and the other six members of the commission were appointed by Democratic governors. She said she would likely resign if asked.

What does the law say? That is the question I asked in an entry dated Dec. 4, 2004, in an earlier discussion of the Trump casino contract (the question is addressed near the end of the entry).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 7, 2005 08:12 AM
Posted to Indiana Government