Controversy continues to dog city/SIR economic development plan

The deep divisions within the Susanville City Council kept both camps firmly in their trenches — Mayor Quincy McCourt and Councilmembers Thomas Herrera and Kevin Stafford on one side and Councilmembers Mendy Schuster and Russ Brown on the other — as the council voted along those lines to approve a controversial Memorandum of Understanding with the Susanville Indian Rancheria at the council’s Wednesday, April 6 meeting.

The item has appeared on the council’s agenda several times recently, but this is the first time the council has voted on the MOU.

Schuster expressed several concerns about the MOU. She said the MOU lacks any definition about what the council expects through this economic development partnership.

Expressing concerns she’s brought up at previous meetings, Schuster said, “We as a council have not sat down and discussed exactly what we expect from (this) economic development position, and what we want, what our goals are, or anything like that. None of that has been discussed among us.”

Schuster suggested some changes to the MOU. She said she’d received a map of ancestral homelands from a tribal member who asked to remain anonymous that contradicted the MOU’s assertion that the city of Susanville is the ancestral homeland of four different tribes. According to that map, even though the other tribes are represented in the SIR, only the Maidu can claim Susanville’s city limits as their ancestral homeland.

Shuster also noted there was no way out of the contract for the city. She suggested if the SIR did not pay its share, the city could abolish the position. She again noted the lack of a job description.

City Administrator Dan Newton said the job description is part of a draft document and it is not up for approval by the council tonight. He said if the MOU is approved by the council, the next step would be to draft the job description.

Herrera said he’s met with more than 60 people and they are all enthusiastic about the MOU.

“I am in favor of this moving forward,” Herrera said.

Brown said he agreed with Schuster regarding the language in the MOU.

Stafford said, we need to move forward and try new things. Regarding disagreements about the salary, he said, “You get what you pay for.” He also said an experienced economic development person could bring a lot of new ideas to the city.

Public comment
During public comment on this issue, Maria Fregoya spoke first, expressing her opposition. What are the benefits the city of Susanville and the SIR will receive from this partnership? Fregoya asked. She said the SIR governs differently than the Susanville City Council and doesn’t contribute sales tax monies to the city. She also suggested a bias among councilmembers regarding the MOU and noted some businesses in Susanville compete with the casino. She said the city may not want to become involved in that dispute.

“This seems quite hypocritical to me,” she said.

David Teeter said, “There’s trouble in our little slice of paradise.”

He noted the businesses on Main Street are suffering, and economic development is needed. He said as one who has worked with the city on economic development, it’s clear the city lacks the staff to address the issue, and. He said the local business community wants action and with AARP funding available for this partnership, he is in favor of the MOU.”

Eileen Richard said the partnership is too complicated, and she suggested just hiring economic development consultants instead of mixing different governmental entities. She also said since the SIR has a role in the hiring process, some city employees might actually fall under SIR control.

Elaine Jacobs said the partnership should publish yearly goals to keep the community informed.

Theresa Phillips, said she’s been involved with local economic development efforts for 20 years and she’s seen “a lot of starts and stops” during that time.

She said it sounds as if the city has a plan to move from “surviving to thriving” and that can only happen through collaborative action.

Leann Vanderly noted on Mondays gas at the casino is 15 cents per gallon cheaper (along with a free small meal) than the price on Main Street.