Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Maryland governor proposes toll changes … Chicago and Cook County leaders feud over gun violence … Flint city council says administrators are boycotting meetings.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is attempting to renegotiate the state’s tribal gaming contract that is set to expire in 2020. Tribal leaders have said that Stitt is forcing an unnecessary negotiation in order to increase the percentage of gaming revenue that goes to the state, which is currently the third-largest gaming market in the country, behind Nevada and California. Last week, Stitt, a Republican, wrote an op-ed about the need to renegotiate the contract. In it, he said that Oklahoma’s exclusivity fees—the amount of gaming revenue that must be paid to the state—were set low, between 4% and 10%, when the contract was negotiated 15 years ago in an attempt to incentivize gaming when the industry was virtually nonexistent. But Stitt and the tribes disagree on a fundamental point: what happens when the contract expires. Tribal leaders, including Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said that the contract renews unless individual tribes reject it. “The compact further states that should either party not agree, the compact automatically renews for another 15 years,” Morgan said. Stitt, however, sent a letter to the chiefs of 35 Oklahoma tribes saying that the contract does not renew, and the state must “begin the negotiation process as soon as possible” to reach a new agreement. “The easiest thing to do is simply renew the existing compacts ‘as is,’ rather than do the hard work of closely reviewing and negotiating new compacts that reflect the state of affairs today,” he said. The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, representing the Cherokee, Chikasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole nations denounced the governor's plan to force negotiations, saying the op-ed and the letter came as a shock. Kimberly Teehee, vice president of government relations for the Cherokee Nation, said that the state’s tribes already do more than their fair share for the state and shouldn’t be made to pay more in exclusivity feeds. “Our broader impact on the state’s economy and all Oklahomans is felt through our investments in health care, education, housing, infrastructure and core services that the state of Oklahoma is often unable to provide,” she said. [Oklahoman; KFOR; Associated Press]
TOLL CHANGE | Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the Maryland Transportation Authority will consider new tolling options. He estimated that the new proposed tolls could save state residents more than $28 million in the next five years. Hogan, a Republican, has already successfully pushed two other toll changes. "We are proud to once again deliver historic toll relief for our citizens by putting another $28 million back into the pockets of hardworking Marylanders. In 2015, we cut tolls at every single facility in the state—the first time tolls had been cut in 50 years. With this next action, we will be delivering on three rounds of toll relief in less than five years,” he said. The new tolls would offer a pay-by-plate option, which would bill credit cards automatically at the same rate as drivers paying in cash. They would also provide lower rates for motorcycles and those towing trailers. The Transportation Authority is expected to vote July 25 on the changes. Transportation Authority spokesperson Kelly Melhem said that “there will be a lot of opportunity to go through the details and for the public to have the opportunity to weigh in.” Some Democrats are opposed to the proposal, though, saying that such a move will deprive the Transportation Authority of needed funds to repair roads. This is not the first time the Democratically-controlled legislature has quarrelled with Hogan over tolls—Democrats also opposed his plan to add toll lanes to two major highways. Alexandra Hughes, spokesperson for House Speaker Adrienne Jones said that the governor seems to be “primarily interested in antagonizing members of the General Assembly to juke his poll ratings with Republican-base voters.” [BayNet; Baltimore Sun; Washington Post]
FEUD OVER GUNS | Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is engaged in a policy feud with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who lost to Lightfoot in the recent Chicago mayoral race. Chicago sits within Cook County, and the leaders of both governments contend that the other’s administration is responsible for the gun violence in the region. Preckwinkle wrote a letter to Lightfoot describing her disappointment with how the police have handled gun violence this year, and in particular with Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson. “I am concerned that the false narrative being put forward by [Johnson] places significant blame on Cook County’s reformed bail system as the root cause for gun violence. We both know this is simply not true,” she wrote. Lightfoot responded that the county’s new bond system—a change championed by Preckwinkle’s administration—is letting repeat gun offenders back on the street before their trials. “That’s obviously a problem. [The bond system] also has never been validated in Cook County, meaning we haven’t done an analysis to determine whether or not the tools that are being used, the ways it’s being implemented by the courts, and the results make sense,” Lightfoot said. Lightfoot proposed that the county should put out weekly data detailing who has been arrested, their charges, and how bond decisions in their cases were made. Preckwinkle said that data wouldn’t help, and instead suggested that she and Lightfoot work together on solutions. “We can go back and forth all day about statistics. The public doesn’t care about spreadsheets, they care about solutions and results,” she said. [Chicago Tribune; WGN]
FLINT ADMINISTRATORS | Members of the city council in Flint, Michigan said that city administrators are boycotting council meetings they are supposed to attend to discuss restoration, bidding, planning, and development of new water service lines. Some administrators have said that the council has treated them disrespectfully, which led to their absence. "Administrators boycotting council meetings doesn’t give council the opportunity to ask questions about resolutions they want passed and prevents the city from moving forward,” said council member Santino Guerra. Councilwoman Kate Fields offered a potential way to bring administrators back to the table. “We can bring spending in this city to a halt... and then we’ll see how fast department heads show up,” she said. In one such meeting that department heads missed, the council rescinded a contract for repairing sidewalks that members of the city administration had pushed for. The back-and-forth has displeased local residents. “Flint, they're ridiculous...Everyone's complaining. It's a mess over here,” said one Flint resident. [MLive.com; NBC 25]
STOP FEEDING THE BIRDS | The mayor of Ocean City, New Jersey, published a letter reminding visitors and residents that feeding seagulls is against the law. In his letter, he said that “these birds have become very aggressive” and now pose a danger to beachgoers. “Some people think it’s funny to feed the gulls and see them swarm. For the health and safety of both animals and humans, this must stop. Feeding gulls and wildlife in Ocean City is against the law,” wrote Mayor Jack Gillan. But an article written after the ban went into effect in 2016, carrying a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail for those caught feeding the nuisance birds, noted that no tickets had been issued at that point. New Jersey also instituted a statewide ban on feeding the birds in 2018. “If people stop feeding gulls and we limit food waste on the streets, it's hoped these birds will eventually revert to a more natural diet and return to the cliffs,” said the state Environmental Health Department. [CBS; Press of Atlantic C
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
NEXT STORY: Allowing Paramedics to Treat Injured Police Dogs