RDA Informal Meeting

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba jots some notes as he listens to John Gardner, former president and CEO of the Quad-City Development Group, speak against the city's casino plan Wednesday. A standing-room-only crowd showed up for the informal meeting of the Riverboat Development Authority at Pepperjack's Restaurant in Davenport. (John Schultz / Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

A meeting this week of opponents of a proposed Davenport-owned casino that ended with shouted accusations could be the first open sign of a jagged rift between City Hall and the business community over the issue.

Emails sent to a specific audience are reaching a larger audience and are growing into strings of incriminations and angry statements that have been simmering under the surface for months. Letters to the editor have expressed opposition, but not the anger Wednesday’s meeting at a Davenport eatery brought into the open.

Don Decker, a member of the Riverboat Development Authority, organized the meeting at Pepperjack’s Restaurant and Lounge. Decker is opposed to the city’s proposed acquisition of the Rhythm City casino for

$46 million. The city council approved a purchase term sheet in October, but a final purchase agreement remains under negotiation.

Mayor Bill Gluba, trying to be heard, was shouted down amid insults and accusations as he tried to defend the casino purchase and the potential financial gains the city could receive from a city-owned casino.

On Thursday, Gluba said he regretted his part of the shouting match. But he said if the city’s business community wants to be heard, they should meet and be heard somewhere with “a little more decorum rather than in a bar.”

Alderman Bill Boom, 3rd Ward, attended the meeting for a short time but left over concerns that a quorum of the city council was present, which would constitute an illegal meeting of the council. He said didn’t like the tone of the meeting from reports he received afterward.

“To me, this was mob action that was designed and calculated to be that way,” he said. “It was all intended to try and make the city look foolish.”

The meeting didn’t help either side, said John Gardner, who spoke at length against the casino acquisition.

“If you looked around that crowd last night, there were a number of people with significant positions in the business community,” he said. “I think it is an indication of the feeling people have with this issue. I think we can do much better with a thoughtful discussion.”

He has recommended people attend city council meetings and also contact aldermen via email or telephone.

“They shouldn’t take a higher premium on someone who stands before the council,” he said. “They should evaluate the quality of the input.”

A more measured tone on both sides is needed, said Steve Spring, a certified public accountant who attended both the Pepperjack’s meeting and Wednesday’s council meeting. He also has met with Gluba individually. He said a meeting between both sides where some of the emotion is removed would be beneficial.

“We are trying to repair that rift and bring everyone back on the same page,” he said. “I’m a fan of the mayor. He’s an energetic mayor. I’m also a fan of Don Decker. He has put his all into this.

“I’m a fan of both of these guys. I would like to see them work together.”

The vitriol of the opposition leaves City Administrator Craig Malin scratching his head. He briefly attended the Pepperjack’s meeting but left over concerns of an illegal meeting. In his absence, he was the topic of personal attacks.

He calls the purchase of the Rhythm City “a no-brainer” but says making it land-based is more difficult because of finances that are still being discussed. Gluba tried to reiterate that to the business people at the Pepperjack’s meeting.

“What is lost in the shouting is that we haven’t decided to buy a casino,” Malin said. “It is the vilification for trying that I can’t fathom.”