City of Shawnee's 'aggressive' behavior could force Oklahoma tribe's hand, chairman says

After years of maneuvering and a visionary sense of planning, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett said he is planning to begin the process of forming a new city in Oklahoma.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: February 16, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: February 16, 2014

Deeply disappointed by a sales tax dispute, leaders of one of Oklahoma's most powerful Indian tribes are considering separating from the city it calls home and forming a new town called FireLake.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett said he is ready to move forward with separation plans. He awaits the reaction of Shawnee city officials, who've threatened lawsuits.

“We have taken several steps toward becoming self-sufficient including many governmental functions like developing our own utilities, building and maintaining roads, purchasing and maintaining streetlights and stop lights, operating a police force and buying property within our tribal jurisdiction,” Barrett said.

Pottawatomie County Assessor Troyce King said the tribe owns roughly 1,000 acres of Indian trust land within Shawnee city limits. This is a small fraction of the city itself, which comprises 21,500 acres.

Forming the town is likely a long-term goal. De-annexation, the legal process of separating from the city, would require a petition filed with the city and an election.

Talk of a legal separation spread after Shawnee Mayor Wes Mainord sent a letter to tribal leaders on Feb. 3 demanding they pay the city 3 percent sales tax on qualifying retail purchases.

City leaders claim a “significant” decline in sales tax collection in recent years and say that basic services — including those provided to members of the tribes — are being harmed.

Barrett, who grew up in Shawnee and has spent most of his life living in the city, accused city officials of acting to “restrain the growth of our commerce” on a regular basis. He also denied that he'd seen any evidence that revenues for the city are down, let alone down “significantly.”

“They are waging an economic war by trying to defame us to the public,” Barrett said.

“They think this is a zero-sum game and believe that everything we get must be a loss for them. They want to paint the picture that we're not contributing citizens of this community and that isn't the case. Shawnee is a better place because we're here.”

The tribe appears to have done some of the groundwork for a possible separation.

It purchased and took over Rural Water District Number 3 nearly a decade ago. They own their own sewer system. The tribe's gaming enterprises, including the massive Grand Casino along Interstate 40, are among the most profitable and well-managed in Oklahoma.

“We'll work with our neighbors during this process and develop a plan that works in the mutual interest of those in the area who would join us in the action to de-annex,” Barrett said.


by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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