By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY — New Albany City Councilman Scott Blair won’t be seated on the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County Board of Directors because of his independent political party affiliation, board President Mark Seabrook confirmed Monday.
Horseshoe officials said last month they were reviewing the organization’s bylaws after Blair wasn’t allowed to attend the January board meeting. He had been appointed to the board by New Albany City Council President Pat McLaughlin at the beginning of the year.
Seabrook said that upon further examination, the board will hold to its tradition that the two city council appointments must consist of one Republican and one Democrat.
“We checked with legal counsel and the bylaws will stand as written,” said Seabrook, who is the Floyd County Commissioners’ representative on the Horseshoe board. “That’s not to say that somebody couldn’t petition the bylaws to get them changed.”
The majority of the city council has disagreed with the board’s interpretation of its bylaws. Last month, Councilman Dan Coffey called for McLaughlin’s choices of Blair and Democratic Councilman John Gonder to the board to be ratified.
He said the bylaws list Republican and Democrat as examples of major political parties, not as the stipulated choices. Coffey threatened in January to take the matter to the Indiana Gaming Commission if the Horseshoe Board didn’t seat Blair.
He said Monday he will consult with Council Attorney Matthew Lorch before deciding what to do.
“It seems like the Horseshoe Foundation board has been becoming more and more political,” Coffey said. “It just kind of reaffirms what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen so far.”
Blair said he and McLaughlin are scheduled to meet with Seabrook about the matter on Friday.
“I think it’s a form of discrimination,” Blair said of the interpretation of the Horseshoe Foundation’s bylaws. “I think it’s a situation of several people just trying to manipulate something for their own political benefit.”
The Horseshoe Foundation board consists of the mayor of New Albany, two city council members, a county commissioner, the general manager of the Horseshoe Casino of Southern Indiana and two of their designees.
The organization has about $21 million in casino funds to spend, however the Horseshoe Foundation is committed to a $1 million annual payment for the Floyd County branch of the YMCA of Southern Indiana for nine more years.
Recently Mayor Jeff Gahan requested grant funding for a New Albany aquatic center and a Little League facility. Blair said there are big-ticket items the city would like funding for yet, others on the Horseshoe Board are reluctant to change the body’s spending policies.
“Let’s face it, it’s about who controls the funding, and what projects get funded,” Blair said.
He believes that if the city challenges the bylaws to a higher authority, New Albany will likely win out. Blair said his constituents elected him in part to ensure good stewardship of public funding and that he feels it’s important to pursue the appointment to be a good representative for his constituents.
He added he’s also representing the council on the body, and that he’s appreciative of that distinction and doesn’t want to see it jeopardized over political purposes.
Seabrook said the decision is not personal, but a move made to adhere to the Horseshoe Foundation’s bylaws. He referenced an eight-year period when he was the only Republican on the Horseshoe board, and said it’s just a matter of following regulations.
The only Republican member of the nine-person city council is Kevin Zurschmiede. The Horseshoe Foundation hasn’t confirmed what would happen if the council consisted only of Democrats.
“The State of Indiana does not even recognize independent as a party because independent simply means that you do not belong to a party,” Seabrook said.