SLOT MACHINE ADVOCATE OFFERS $10,000 TO GUAM MAYORS

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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 19) – Under pressure from people who voiced legal and ethical concerns, Agana Heights Mayor Paul McDonald said yesterday afternoon he would wait until after the Nov. 7 General Election before accepting a US$10,000 donation from Guam Greyhound racetrack owner John Baldwin.

Baldwin, an investment banker in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is funding the campaign for Proposal B, which would legalize slot machines at his Guam Greyhound racetrack, Guam Election Commission records show. His spending for the slots campaign has reached US$500,000.

Baldwin has made a verbal promise that he would give the island's 19 mayors US$10,000 apiece for repairs to sports and park facilities under each mayor's jurisdiction.

McDonald said money for repairs to his village's gym and baseball field is "very badly needed," but he changed his mind about receiving the US$10,000 at a ceremony that the Proposal B campaign had scheduled for this morning.

The mayor said he decided to wait until after the election to receive the US$10,000 after having received calls yesterday from several people whom he did not name. Some of the people who called him spoke of possible legal implications if the mayor were to receive Baldwin's money during the campaign season, McDonald said. He acknowledged having received "pressure from ... people in the community. Despite the money being badly needed, I guess I can wait," the mayor said.

In a previous interview, Baldwin stated he would keep his promise to the Guam mayors – regardless of how people would vote on the slot machine proposal.

The proposal has a higher threshold for voter approval. Instead of merely gaining the support of a majority of votes cast in the Nov. 7 election, initiatives such as Proposal B would need the approval of more than 50 percent of all voters.

Archbishop Anthony Apuron, in a written statement, said: "Individuals – elected or otherwise – who accept contributions by groups lobbying to strengthen gambling on Guam are accountable for their own actions. They each have to look into their own hearts. More important than money are the lives of human beings. With gambling, many people have suffered greatly," Apuron stated.

While "organized gambling" already exists on Guam, Apuron stated, "We should do all we can to stop further" gambling activities on the island.

Slot machine proponents have pitched the idea as a source of tax money for helping to pay for the local government's spending for classrooms and prescription medicine for seniors, among other needs.

But the anti-slots campaign's spokeswoman, Jackie Marati, at a hotel and restaurant industry forum yesterday, repeated her previous characterization of slot machine gambling by saying that slot machines do to gamblers what the highly addictive "ice" does to drug users.

Apuron made his comments in response to the announcement earlier yesterday from the Proposal B campaign that the Agana Heights mayor would receive a US$10,000 check at a ceremony this morning. After the announcement and the archbishop's comments, McDonald decided to wait for the election to pass.

Baldwin's donation would be the single largest money contribution to Agana Heights in the 14 years that he has been mayor, McDonald said.

He said he tried to ask for funding from the government of Guam to repair his village's gym and baseball field. He said he even submitted 500 signatures to the governor's office in support of his request for funding around February, but he's still waiting for an answer.

The village's gym has needed repairs as long as four years ago, after Supertyphoon Pongsona ravaged the island, McDonald said.

To repair the gym floor alone, the village mayor's office would need about US$70,000, he said.

Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks said her office also received calls from people who wanted to know what Guam laws say about mayors receiving financial help from private donors.

Guam law specifically allows island mayors to receive financial assistance from private sources to pay for their village's projects, Brooks said.

But an older Guam law that addresses ethical issues forbids public officials in general from receiving gifts valued at more than US$200, she said.

Oftentimes, when an ethical question is raised, Brooks said, the question is framed on whether someone's actions are within what's allowed by law.

"But the more important question from an ethics point of view is: 'Should I do this, as opposed to can I do this?'" Brooks asked.

The assessment, she said, can be based on a "higher moral plane."

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