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City of Shawnee campaign continues despite meeting with tribes

At its latest meeting on April 7, the Shawnee City Commission voted to authorize the City Manager and City Attorney to request formal mediation with other parties regarding sales tax collection. Despite concerns from two city commissioners about the high costs of retaining an out-of-state law firm to perform duties as Agents of the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the City Commission voted 5-2 to move forward with its campaign against area tribes.

During the citizen’s participation and comments portion of the meeting, Shawnee resident and president of Vision Bank Carl Packwood cautioned against the City Commission’s actions.

“I just think that there are a lot of things that we can spend money on in Shawnee and not spend it all on attorney fees,” he said. “You should really look deep into your soul and into your heart and figure out exactly if this is going to be best for the City of Shawnee.”

In February 2014, City of Shawnee, Okla. officials demanded that four local Native American tribes begin paying a three percent city sales tax on goods sold to non-tribal members. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has the largest retail operation with FireLake Discount Foods. The City blames the Tribes’ economic development for decreasing tax revenue.

Since that time a series of letters and data has been exchanged between tribal and city officials. On March 24, officials from the Sac and Fox Nation, Absentee-Shawnee Tribe, Kickapoo Tribe and Citizen Potawatomi Nation met with City of Shawnee officials at the CPN Cultural Heritage Center. It was attended by about 50 Tribal and City representatives.{jb_quote}“I just think that there are a lot of things that we can spend money on in Shawnee and not spend it all on attorney fees,” said Shawnee resident Carl Packwood. “You should really look deep into your soul and into your heart and figure out exactly if this is going to be best for the City of Shawnee.”{/jb_quote}“While Mayor Mainord opened his remarks with a syrupy statement to the leadership of the four area tribes about how much the City “respects Tribal Sovereignty,” he then stated the complete opposite,” said Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Chairman John Barrett. “He rehashed the original City threat letter to the Tribes, demanding that the City of Shawnee be paid because the City is “entitled” to force the Nation to collect taxes.”

A representative from each tribe explained that land on which the tribal governments operate is deeded to the United States and held in trust as federal land and is not part of the City of Shawnee. Tribal representatives also presented information about how sales tax collected on retail sales are used to fund tribal government activities including job creation, healthcare, public safety, infrastructure and education.

“Tribal economic development shouldn’t have to be limited to gaming, added Barrett. “Tribes have struggled to make economic dreams a reality throughout the years. The boost from gaming has helped tremendously, but tribes must continue to diversify and create a tax base to further economic development and job creation.”

Data from the Oklahoma Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has created seven of every 10 jobs in Shawnee for the past decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2003 and 2013 the net new jobs in Shawnee increased by 2,045 and during that same time period CPN created 1,422, or 70 percent, new jobs.

“Without Tribal development there is little growth in our cities or state,” Barrett said. “Our 2,200 employees spend their paychecks in the businesses across Pottawatomie County and Oklahoma, all while tribes continue to offer services and economic stimulation through their very presence.”

City of Shawnee officials countered with claims that City sales tax collections for grocery sales are down, saying the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s FireLake Discount Foods was responsible for a $4 million loss in tax revenue since 2001.

In a previous investigation into the City of Shawnee’s claims that sales tax revenue is down, independent audits of its finances show tax revenue increased each year since 1996, with the exception of the fiscal year 2009-10. The City also failed to consider other economic factors relevant to sales tax collected during the 2000-2004 time frames; such as other retailers reporting food sales as general merchandise and the eventual closing of three grocers in Shawnee.

“We make every effort to shop in our local communities and spend $0.30 of every dollar in Shawnee,” added Barrett. “Our economic impact has reached more than $522 million and 100 percent of the sales tax we collect stays in Pottawatomie County. Simply put, without tribal job creation, sales tax growth is not possible. This attempt to punish the tribes for their success is a regrettable strategy, a misguided attempt to stifle economic success that will result in all Oklahomans losing out, no matter what their heritage.”

In the last year alone, Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes had a $10.8 billion impact and directly employed more than 50,000 people. Tribal payrolls contributed a total of $1.5 billion to the state’s economy. Tribes also made payments of $792 million for improved access to medical care, education, social services and economic development opportunities.{jb_quote}“We make every effort to shop in our local communities and spend $0.30 of every dollar in Shawnee,” added Barrett. “Our economic impact has reached more than $522 million and 100 percent of the sales tax we collect stays in Pottawatomie County. Simply put, without tribal job creation, sales tax growth is not possible. This attempt to punish the tribes for their success is a regrettable strategy, a misguided attempt to stifle economic success that will result in all Oklahomans losing out, no matter what their heritage.”{/jb_quote}The Citizen Potawatomi Nation has begun to flourish because of such strategic planning and stable governance. A clear direction and plan to become the economic engine for our Tribe and the communities near us has allowed us to increase our assets from just $50,000 in 1972 to today’s economic impact of more than $520 million.

Oklahoma’s Tribes are the largest employers statewide. Tribal employees spend their paychecks in thousands of businesses across Oklahoma, while tribes continue to bolster services and economic stimulus by their very presence.