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Wednesday, January 19,2011

One or the other

Will Joel Ferguson have to choose between MSU and a casino?

by Andy Balaskovitz

When Joel Ferguson was chosen to serve on the Greektown Casino board of directors in June, he says he was selected from a field of 30 to 40 people.


Ferguson was re-elected as chairman of the MSU Board of Trustees last week and is serving a term that expires Jan. 1, 2013.


Yet, a section in the 1996 Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act says if you want to be a “qualifier” for a new casino license, you can’t be an elected official. That includes directors of the Greektown board.


According to the Michigan Gaming Control Board, the state’s regulatory body involving casinos, that leaves Ferguson with a choice: MSU or Greektown.


“The ball is in his court,” said Richard Kalm, executive director of the gaming board. “We have exchanged information based on a memorandum of advice that indicates he can’t serve on an elected board at MSU and the board at Greektown.”


That advice came from the state attorney general’s office sometime in September or October, Kalm said.


Until Ferguson and his attorney, Bob Stocker of the Dickinson Wright firm in Lansing, make a decision, the gaming board won’t be looking at the matter any further, Kalm said.


“Barring that information coming from Mr. Ferguson, we are not pushing forward at this time,” Kalm said.


The gaming board has to approve Ferguson’s licensure before he can be an active member of the Greektown board.


The Chippewa Indian Tribe opened the Greektown Casino in 2000, but the casino had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008. The Michigan Gaming Control Board approved a reorganization plan June 28. Part of that plan included naming Ferguson and three others to Greektown’s Board of Directors.


Four Greektown board members have been approved by the Gaming Control Board and the board is conducting business, Kalm said. Three more are awaiting approval, including Ferguson.


As for Ferguson, he is still hoping he can serve on both, despite what the Gaming Control Board and the attorney general’s office think.


“I hope I can get on the (casino) board. I hope I’ll be able to do both,” Ferguson said. “We’re working our way through that.”


Ferguson refused to speculate on which board position he would take if he had to choose. “I’m going to do what I’m going to do,” he said.


Ferguson said that his Board of Trustees position is unpaid and a spot on the casino board comes with “over $100,000 per year.”


“I don’t think I’ll make any decisions based on money,” he said.


Ferguson, a Democrat, was first elected in 1986 to the MSU Board of Trustees. He was re-elected as chairman of the board last week. He is the co-founder of F&S Development, a residential housing development firm. He also co-founded two local television stations.


Calls to the Greektown Casino were referred to Stocker, Ferguson’s attorney, who did not return multiple calls for comment.


Greektown is one of three casinos in downtown Detroit, along with the MGM Grand and Motor City casinos.


Should Ferguson opt to take the casino position, that enables Gov. Rick Snyder to appoint a trustee to fill Ferguson’s vacancy, says MSU spokesman Tom Oswald.


“That person would fill out the rest of (Ferguson’s) term,” he said.


A Snyder spokesman also did not return a call for comment.


Ferguson is not the only elected official who was recently nominated to the Greektown board.


Freman Hendrix was elected to the Detroit Charter Revision Committee in 2009. He quickly resigned from that position upon accepting a spot on the Greektown board. Detroit voters elected the nine-member revision commission to rewrite the city charter.


Republican Trustee Mitch Lyons, who was elected to the MSU board in November, said he met with Ferguson “about a month ago” to discuss the matter.


“It was my understanding that if he can’t do both, he’d stay at MSU,” Lyons said. “But that could change.”


Kalm said the bottom line is not whether Ferguson is qualified to serve on both boards — “That’s not an issue” — but that the state statute says he simply can’t do both.


“We are not seeing it that way right now,” Kalm said of Ferguson serving on both boards. “I wish we could. The law is pretty clear: You can’t have an elected office and serve on a casino board. The five-member (Gaming Control) Board is pretty adamant about that.”

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