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Springfield casino advisory committee member says its inaugural meeting is ‘long overdue’


Peter Goonan

June 8, 2019

SPRINGFIELD — An 11-member advisory committee, established earlier this year by the city to review operations at the MGM Springfield casino, has yet to meet.

City Council President Justin Hurst and one of the committee’s members, Johnnie Ray McKnight, said the Community Advisory Committee is mandated under the city’s host community agreement with MGM Springfield. They hope it will get to work soon.

MGM Springfield opened its $960 million resort casino last August.

McKnight said he is urging Mayor Domenic J. Sarno or Hurst to convene the committee, calling it “long overdue.”

“If not for the sake of honoring the host agreement, we need to act for the residents to give them a voice at the table,” he said. “This is their city.”

McKnight, operations manager for the employment agency People Ready Skilled Trades, is running for an at-large seat on the City Council.

The committee is directed to meet quarterly during the first two years of operation of MGM Springfield, and twice annually thereafter, “or as otherwise needed, at locations within the City or at the Project according to procedures established by the Community Advisory Committee,” the host agreement states.

The advisory committee “may make non-binding recommendations to the Developer and the City concerning matters involving the Project which directly impact the City and its residents,” the agreement states.

The membership includes appointments made by the mayor (3), City Council president (3), MGM Springfield (3), president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield (1) and Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce in Springfield (1).

Hurst said Friday he will confer with City Hall officials regarding who is empowered to coordinate the committee’s meeting. Hurst is not on the committee, and said he was initially told it was not his responsibility to coordinate meetings, but rather to appoint three of the 11 members, which he did.

“My hope is that it meets soon,” Hurst said. “We have an obligation to the citizens of Springfield.”

A spokeswoman for Sarno said she was reviewing the matter but did not have answers Friday.

McKnight said MGM Springfield “has enhanced our nightlife and overall entertainment in the city, and for the most part MGM has been an excellent neighbor.”

"But promises were made, and promises need to be kept," McKnight said.

In January, Hurst and former council President Orlando Ramos announced three appointments to the advisory committee: Daniel Patrick Morrissey, a local lawyer; Vanessa Otero, chief operating officer at Partners for Community; and McKnight.

Sarno announced his appointments that same month: Leo Florian, president of the South End Citizens Council; Jose Claudio, chief operations officer for the New North Citizens Council, and Denise Jordan, executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority. Jordan is Sarno’s former chief of staff.

On March 1, MGM Springfield revealed its three appointments: Bishop Talbert W. Swan II, pastor of Spring of Hope Church of God in Christ and president of the Greater Springfield NAACP; Seth Stratton, a city native and vice president and legal counsel at MGM Springfield; and downtown resident Arlen Carballo, director of financial planning and analysis at the casino.

Appointments from the chambers of commerce were not verified.

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