In a Boston Globe article dated March 4th of this year, Jack Healy, Middleboro’s outgoing town manager was approached by the representatives of the Wampanoag tribe looking for a location for their casino. At that time Mr. Healy expressed his opinion that a casino “would certainly change the character of the community forever, and I think that wouldn’t be very popular. If it were seriously considered, it would be a huge battle.”
The fear that Middleboro residents might not actually desire a casino, and in fact, possibly do battle with the prospect, could be a possible explanation for the unholy speed at which contract negotiations are currently proceeding.
Middleboro, in case you didn’t know, is a town with a colorful (and admirable) history of public debate. Citizens argued for over a year on what color to paint the town hall. It took another year to determine if it really wanted a drive-through at a downtown Dunkin’ Donuts. Every proposal for commercial land use is dissected in the public forum. Contractors have been expelled from meetings for not having their plans properly drawn. And yet, in less than four months time, town officials are proceeding with extreme haste toward a transaction which would forever change the character of their town, and convert a not-insignificant portion of it into a sovereign nation.
Glen Marshall, leader of the Wampanoag tribe, insists he wants a good relationship with Middleboro, yet Scott Ferson, the tribe’s spokesman refuses any further negation or discussion, and insists that the town take the current agreement for $7 million within two weeks, or the Tribe will proceed without it.
The formerly reluctant Healy, who put the land in question up for sale after being approached by the Tribe, has since become a cheerleader of the pro-casino opinion. To listen to him talk, a casino has no downside, except perhaps for those annoying anti-casino people who keep popping up with all their questions and concerns. Like, for instance, the stars. Apparently, the sort of mega-casino the Tribe is anticipating is so large and so brightly lit, not unlike a small city, that it would completely block the view of the stars in the night sky.
Dennis Whitten, a tribal law attorney hired by town selectmen in an effort to help them get a handle on what a casino might mean to Middleboro has, since the moment land sale was announced, insisted that a deal be struck as quickly as possible.
A month later, at a town meeting in the 600 seat high school auditorium, so many townspeople showed up for the discussion of a draft agreement with the Wampanoag’s that they had to be turned away. Most stopped before leaving, however, to sign recall petitions to remove several of the selectmen.
At that meeting, residents asked the most obvious question: Shouldn’t the town hold a referendum vote to find out whether the people even want a casino? It was explained that, due to a quirk in the law, a referendum vote could not be held in Middleboro until April of 2008, at which point those in the auditorium insisted, in unison, ‘We’ll wait!’ And still, the town’s new lawyer, an even more expensive expert in tribal law, asserted that he could have an agreement tied up within 4 weeks.
This was also disheartening news to the members of a recently formed impact study group charged with confronting the myriad effects of a mega casino, and given just a six week window to gather and analyze information, only now to learn that negotiations would be done well before they presented their findings.
So, to me, all of this urgency begs one question: “Where’s the fire?” If a casino is such a great deal for the community, wouldn’t a referendum vote bear that out? And if the Wampanoag’s want a good relationship with the town, why is it holding a gun to it’s head? With all due respect to Middleboro’s town officials, the Tribe and tribal law experts everywhere, shouldn’t something as elemental as the stars be allowed to receive more debate than the color of the town hall?