LANSING, Mich. – Lansing businessman and Michigan State University Board of Trustees Chairman Joel Ferguson – whose appointment to Detroit’s Greektown Casino board of directors has been in limbo for more than nine months – says that if forced to choose between the casino and the MSU board, he’d go with the Spartans.
“I would prefer to be of service to both the MSU and the Greektown boards,” Ferguson said today. “But if forced to choose, there’s no denying my heart is with Michigan State University.”
Ferguson has insisted that his simultaneous service on the MSU and Greektown boards would not be a conflict of interest as envisioned by state lawmakers when they drafted the 1996 Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act.
However, Rick Kalm, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, said late last year that the act prohibits all elected officials from serving on a casino board of control. Kalm cited a legal opinion issued by the Michigan Attorney General’s office.
Kalm delivered Ferguson an ultimatum: Chose between MSU and Greektown. Kalm said the issue was not whether Ferguson was qualified to serve in both roles, but whether state statute prevents him from carrying out both roles.
But in an April 25 letter to Kalm, Ferguson requested that the Gaming Control Board be allowed to make the final decision. “I generally wish to serve on both boards and believe I am legally entitled to do so,” he wrote.
Ferguson said MSU does not qualify as a “governmental unit” under the Gaming Act. He noted that his authority on the MSU board is limited to MSU and “cannot possibly pose a conflict of interest. I have no influence or authority whatsoever on casino gaming in Detroit and should not under law or common sense be precluded from serving in both capacities.”
He receives no financial compensation for serving on the MSU board, but would receive $210,000 in his first year of service as a member of the Greektown board of directors. Board members also receive substantial annual stipends for serving.
In his letter Ferguson outlined his “tremendous obligation and duty” to stand by MSU during these difficult financial times. Ferguson said he reached his decision after speaking with many MSU senior administrative officials, athletic coaches, fellow board members, students and members of the community who encouraged him to stay.
“We're really thrilled that Joel Ferguson has chosen to remain an MSU trustee,” said Bill Beekman, secretary of the MSU board. “The casino appointment would provide Joel with an interesting project and with significant financial compensation. But Joel Ferguson has elected to continue to spend a great deal of his time dealing with MSU matters as a trustee where he works for nothing more than our thanks and the good feeling that comes with a job well done.”
While embracing MSU, Ferguson made clear in his plea to Kalm that he was not ready to withdraw his nomination to the Greektown board.
“I would ask that you simply process my application and allow the (Michigan Gaming Control Board) the opportunity to decide whether I may serve in both capacities. I am prepared to appear before the (control board) at the hearing on my application to state my position in that forum and implore them to exercise their discretion to allow me to serve on both boards, as I contend I should be able to do.”
Greektown, one of three casinos in Detroit, emerged from bankruptcy last summer, shortly before the Ferguson appointment was announced.
Ferguson, an MSU alumnus, has served on the Board of Trustees since 1987 and was elected chairman by his fellow board members in January, following earlier stints as chairman in 1992, 2007 and 2009. Ferguson is co-founder of F&S Development Co., the developer of 14 affordable, multi-family residential complexes throughout Michigan. Ferguson also co-developed the House Office Building and the Michigan State Police Headquarters – both in downtown Lansing. He founded two Lansing television stations: WYSM-TV Channel 47, a Fox affiliate, and WLAJ-TV, Channel 53, Lansing’s ABC affiliate – and he was an original organizer of several banks, including Capitol National Bank, Lansing’s only locally owned bank.
Ferguson has long been active in Democratic Party circles at the state and national levels.