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February 16, 2013

OUR OPINION: Horseshoe plays losing hand with Blair snub

The Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County’s decision not to allow independent New Albany City Councilman Scott Blair on the board is puzzling.

While the organization certainly has been a supporter of education, business and civic projects in Floyd County, the failure to seat Blair on the board appears to be an attempt to hamper Mayor Jeff Gahan’s push to see more funding provided for New Albany quality-of-life efforts.

The Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County Board of Directors consists of the mayor, two city council members, a county commissioner, the general manager of Horseshoe Casino of Southern Indiana and two of its designees.

Recently, Pat McLaughlin, president of the city council, appointed Democrat John Gonder and Blair, to the board. Since the Horseshoe’s bylaws mandate that a Republican and a Democrat from the city council be appointed, the board will not recognize Blair’s appointment.

It doesn’t look like members are going to budge, and we feel that’s the wrong choice.

This all smells of political posturing. Why does it have to be a Republican?

Blair was elected by the residents of the Sixth District to represent them on the council. And that is what he is doing. Obviously, the residents he represents believe he is legitimate.

Maybe it’s time for the Horseshoe board to rewrite its bylaws. For starters, the two-party mandate would create problems if the council were comprised entirely of members of one party.

Don’t think it could happen? It’s nearly the case now, as the council is made up of sevent Democrats, on Republican and one independent. That lone Republican, Kevin Zurschmiede, has been a member of the Horseshoe board in the past.

But those particulars probably have nothing to do with who sits on the board. Rather, it seems to have something to do with votes and where they’ll fall on future projects.

Gahan asked the Horseshoe Foundation to review its policy on funding major capital projects last year, but his request for change wasn’t met with open arms.

The Horseshoe Foundation has about $21 million in its coffers that could be spent in Floyd County. The organization is on the hook for $9 million more in payments on the Floyd County branch of the YMCA of Southern Indiana — located in downtown New Albany — over the next nine years. There’s also scholarships and other initiatives the Horseshoe Foundation has agreed to fund.

Those who believe the Horseshoe Foundation should foot more projects in New Albany point to the infrastructure demands the casino has placed on the city due to the high volume of traffic that travels through downtown to the floating casino.

There’s logic behind those arguments, but the issue of Blair being rejected by the board is separate from how one may feel about the spending habits of the foundation.

Blair has supported many of Gahan’s proposals on the council. He and Gonder would likely do the same on the Horseshoe board. To so vehemently oppose Blair’s placement on the board gives the appearance that Horseshoe Foundation members are attempting to keep the numbers more in their favor by using a bylaw that should be abolished, in our opinion.

If the Horseshoe Foundation isn’t a political entity, then it really shouldn’t base board member selection on party affiliation. If the board doesn’t want to change its spending policy, then it should handle that argument in a fair setting and allow the city council to be represented as its leader chooses.

McLaughlin was voted to be the council president. He chose Blair to represent that body.

Most of us want cooperation, respect and results from our elected officials and the high-profile boards that are intended to serve the community. We don’t want to see bickering and political posturing, especially at the local level. We get plenty of that when we turn on CNN and check on our leaders in Washington.

The Horseshoe Foundation should accept Blair. If his positions aren’t viewed as representative of the community and the council, then the next president if not McLaughlin can replace him. Or, voters can if he chooses to run for re-election.

But, citing a somewhat vague bylaw to keep Blair off the board doesn’t set a good example of bipartisanship and community synergy.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy and Assistant Editors Chris Morris and Amy Huffman-Branham.

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