Sunday, August 12, 2007

Transylvania 947

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I feel I should explain.

For those new to the casino debate, the vampire in the photo is an attorney by the name of Dennis Whittlsey.

It’s nothing personal. I mean, he’s probably a heck of a guy when he’s not helping to put a casino in your backyard. And as far as professional, he’s been named as one of the "Best Lawyers in America" for his work in Indian law and Indian gaming law, so if you ever need one of those... there you go.

Mr. Whittlsey, an Oklahoma native, was invited to join the cast of the Casino Follies by Middleboro Selectman Adam Bond, when the ability to handle a project of this size by their current attorney, Jon Whitten was called into question.

My introduction to Dennis occurred at a well attended Selectmen’s Meeting at the high school auditorium. And though I was beginning to have serious doubts about Adam at this point, I was looking forward to hearing from the gentleman he’d flown up from DC to ‘help us negotiate the best deal’.

Dennis took center stage amongst much genuflection on the part of the Board of Selectmen - and pretty much everyone else. We were in awe... of his credentials, of his potential. He introduced himself and told us a bit about who he was and what he did. Despite a lifetime of lawyer jokes, he appeared genuine and likeable and, initially, I hung on his every word like a schoolgirl with a crush on the new boy in town. But the infatuation melted quickly as he spoke more and more about himself, the subject of law, and pretty much everything ever said, written or contemplated in the name of Indian casino gambling establishments - all of it in tedious, monotonous, almost inaudible detail until it was clear – no one was really listening anymore.

It was his voice. That soft, subtlety raspy Southern voice one needed to exert physical effort to listen to. With all my might, despite the late hour, and a perfectly operational microphone, I blinked my eyes, and commanded my mind to stand at attention as his sentences drifted off the stage into infinitesimal gasps of air, their intent and meaning lost forever.

It was endless. What could probably have been answered in under two minutes, lingered for five… ten… sucking the momentum and energy from the room. Those in the audience who didn’t simply get up and leave, were privately begging for him to sit down. To let them live again.

At one point, as Dennis stood up to take yet another question that hadn’t been directed to him, I heard someone up in the nosebleed seats behind me holler, “Oh dear God, no!”

My sentiments exactly.

But he just kept talking. Townspeople lined up twenty-deep at each of three microphones started feeling the ache in their backs and calves and feet, and wondered if he didn't see them standing there with their questions, or if those questions would even be heard that night. In the end, due to the late hour, they were not.

Not long after my first experience with Mr. Whittlesey, I attended the second episode of the Casino Impact Study Group for which they produced a certain Professor Clyde Barrow, (see my previous blog - Mr. August) to give us a little presentation.

Before he started the slide show, Mr. Barrow let us know that, while there are many issues in the debate over casinos, tonight he was just going to talk about the money.

I wondered then, and not for the last time, why the town of Middleboro only brought the Tribe, lawyers and professors who were only going to talk about money to speak to us. Even Mr. Barrow himself conceded that there where many issues to concern ourselves with. Why weren’t we concerning ourselves with them. I was certainly concerned with them, for what it was worth - which apparently was very little.

Suddenly… to my horror, it was during Mr. Barrow's presentation that Mr. Whittlesey entered the auditorium accompanied by Jack Healy and took a seat down front. Maybe, he’s just here to listen, I hoped. I prayed.

No such luck. Mr. Whittlesey was invited up on stage again and again, with continued genuflection, to answer questions - which he once again handled deftly with his trademark narcoleptic responses. That’s when I knew that I’d be missing Wife Swap again this week. Like so many others, this night would prove to be a long one. One point in the evening, however, offered a brief bit of fireworks as Mr. Whittlesey unexpectedly and angrily began to cross-examine an anxious and bewildered Professor Barrow while the chairman of the Impact Study Group repeatedly asked him to stop. What was all that about?

What was all anything of it about?

Mr. Whittlesey comes up North, charged with getting a juicy contract, beats up a professor who says a casino’s a big fat healthy cash cow waiting to be milked, and eventually comes up with an agreement which includes a percentage of the slot revenues. Then, the moment that contract is trashed, he backs off like dog with face full of porcupine and comes back with what? His tail between his legs and the original contract, minus any ‘hostile tone’, which forces the town to side with the Tribe in any future conflicts, and what else? Four more million – which will supposedly come from a share of the room rates. But… he neglects to factor in the high percentage of rooms at these casinos that get ‘comped’. Meaning, given away for free. So really, it turns out it’s more like 2 million at best.

What kind of crocodile-skinned mouthpiece was this guy, anyway? Wasn’t Middleboro paying him a jillion dollars an hour for his advice? I suspect there is much, much more to this story.

The last time I saw Dennis was while Adam gave his own slideshow presentation of the second agreement. I looked at him there on the stage, blending in with the giant white movie screen behind his head, and was a bit surprised at how pale he'd become. His hair, his face, the collar of his shirt – all the same shade of bloodless white. Only his eyes, eyebrows and the dark cavern of his mouth offered any respite from snow blindness. What was he thinking, I wondered. Was he happy about the agreement? Did he think the town got the best deal it could? Was he thinking of home? And could it be possible that Adam had rushed this whole project for the simple reason that he, like so many others, never wanted to listen to Dennis’s voice again?

Dennis was once quoted as saying, "All of the elements are in place here for a highly successful project. The impact on this community will be extraordinary - perhaps greater than that of any other such project in the country, because of its size." So, if this project is supposed to be the most hideously gargantuan edifice to greed in America, why did Middleboro end up less than West Warwick did with the Narragansett Indian Tribe? And why did they get a share of the gross revenues when Middleboro just got a crappy room tax addendum?

Early on, Mr. Whittlesey urged the town selectmen to ‘proceed carefully as they review federal requirements’, yet this tragedy all went down in three months. Why? Was anyone listening to him?

So... how come Dennis gets to leave after a few weeks, never to return, and I get to keep the world's biggest casino a few minutes from my front door, along with endless social, economic, traffic, and environmental problems, not to mention unanswered questions?

The movie wasn’t over, but I could already guess the ending. The one in which my town, and all the other towns around Middleboro, get sucked dry and left like corpses by the agreement playing out up there on the high school stage.

After an hour or so, Mr. Whittlesey came down and took a seat in the audience in front of me. I struggled in my purse, to no avail, to find a mirror I could hold near Dennis to see if he cast a reflection. To me, his role has been one of the biggest mysteries in this whole horror show. Why did he go for Barrow’s jugular that evening? Why did it appear that Glenn Marshall was the Dr. Van Helsing who silenced Dennis with a stake to the heart? And how much of a role did Adam play?

The quality of life of 250,000 of my neighbors took a nose dive the day Middleboro's selectmen signed their 'historic' agreement. And I need answers!

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