Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is the new Spokane tribal casino report biased?

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 10:51 AM

When Madison Government Affairs released its lengthy assessment of the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino-hotel complex last week, the backlash against the report was unsurprisingly harsh.

The assessment not only argued, like the Bureau of Indian Affairs had, that the complex wouldn't pose a threat to Fairchild's future, it doubted the accuracy and clarity of the widely-distributed PowerPoint slides opponents had relied on. It also questioned why the noise contours of the louder B-52 was used for the Joint Land Use Study, when there's "very little chance" of those planes ever being assigned to Fairchild again.

Yesterday, in a joint press conference featuring Greater Spokane Inc., and the Spokane County Commissioners, the report came under heavy fire from those opponents.

To be sure, the proposed complex has some pretty powerful opponents. In the last few months, I’ve spoken with County Commissioners Todd Mielke and Al French, GSI president Rick Hadley, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, City Councilman Steve Salvatori, and Jim McDevitt, a former Air Force pilot. All express deep concerns — even certainty — about the complex posing a danger to the community. (Others, like City Council President Ben Stuckart and Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing, say that’s bogus.)

I’ve reached out to Fairchild Air Force base for comment on the specific factual issues raised, but there’s another issue looming. The tribe paid Madison Government Affairs for the report, so can we trust the report?

“You can buy any analysis you want, as long as you pay for it, and you get what you pay for,” Hadley said the day before the press conference. Mielke raised the same issue.

I had a similar concern, and so I asked Paul Hirsch, one of the authors of the report, that question over the phone Monday evening. Hirsch was the Director of Review and Analysis for the 1991 Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). If you’re really in the mood for a fun time, you can watch him on vintage 1991 C-SPAN right now.

He explained that, though his firm has been a lobbying group in other matters, it wasn’t acting as a lobbyist in this case. “We looked at it objectively,” Hirsch said. “We did it honestly and looked at the criteriae stablished by the Air Force and the FAA.”

Then, after those concerns were raised at the joint press-conference yesterday, I asked him to send me, essentially, why we should trust that Madison Government Affairs could be trusted in its report. He responded:

I spent 22+ years in the federal service (4 in the Air Force) working for the Air Force, Department of State, and the BRAC Commission. I served on the1991 BRAC Commission from April 1991 to April 1993 leaving the Commission prior to DoD releasing their 1993 Recommendations. Since leaving the Commission inApril of 1993 I have worked in the private sector. I have worked on behalf of governments/communities with military bases, for private sector defense companies, economic development commissions, and chambers of commerce. Over the past 20 years, 16+ as President of Madison Government Affairs, I have established a very solid reputation among my public & private-sector clients, congressional members and staffs, and the executive branch (mainly the military). I learned the importance of a solid reputation and would not destroy 40 years of hard work for a client engagement. When I was approached by the Spokane Tribe to make an assessment of STEP relative to Fairchild AFB, I told that my firm would accomplish an independent assessment as to whether their economic development project would adversely impact air operations of the base. I made it perfectly clear that if they wanted an endorsement of their project they would need to get another consultant. They understood that they were getting my firm’s best effort and I was walking into the project with no preconceived ideas relative to the project. In fact, I had never heard of STEP nor had I ever been to Fairchild AFB or Spokane.

In other words, Hirsch, one of the authors of the report, hasn’t really been known for representing businesses against the concerns of bases. Quite the opposite — he’s been known for preparing communities to fight against base closure. On his website he’s described providing “counsel and analysis to communities and local governments whose bases were targeted for closure by the Department of Defense or by the Commission.”

Here’s Hirsch being interviewedas a “BRAC lobbyist” on NPR in 2005, talking about how important it is for communities to remind the military of how crucial the base is economically for the region. Here, he’s quoted in 2010, raising concern about Defense Secretary Robert Gates trying to shut down a facility without going through the BRAC process.

The other author, retired Lt. General Carl Franklin, is an experienced Air Force commander.

Of course, that may not satisfy community concerns – especially when the stakes are so high. <

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, staff writer Daniel Walters is the Inlander's City Hall reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...