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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

City officials say they just want the tribe and its leaders to be “good neighbors.”

The city claims that tribal businesses are not paying the city a 3 percent sales tax it uses to fund its operations. According to the letter by Mainord, shoppers who are not members of an Indian tribe should pay the 3 percent sales tax if they buy goods at tribal shops and stores within Shawnee's city limits.

Bad blood

Barrett said the treatment he receives from Shawnee officials confounds him because of all the good the tribe does for the city.

Just a few weeks ago, the tribe provided $100,000 to help the city pay for repairs to the municipal pool. Last year, Barrett said, the Potawatomis gave charitable groups and nonprofits based in Shawnee more than $1.7 million.

“We are good neighbors,” the chairman said.

Barrett said the letter, which was addressed to his tribe, the Kickapoo Nation, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and the Sac and Fox Nation, was written to his tribe, not the others.

“Other than gaming, their commerce is negligible,” he said of the other tribes' business activities. “That letter was to us. We're the only (tribe) in the area who has businesses other than gaming.”

For years, the relationship between the successful Indian tribe and the city it calls home has grown frayed, Barrett said.

Barrett denies that his tribe is cheating the city of Shawnee out of anything.

“We charge the same amount of tax as any other grocery store in Shawnee and our competitors all seem to be doing well,” Barrett said.

“Rather than sales tax, we provide many governmental services in this area. We pave roads, build water lines, and provide police protection. We paid more than $21.3 million in taxes in Oklahoma and made more than $1.7 million in contributions to the (Shawnee) community in 2012.”

The tribe also has a police force of two dozen officers.

“That's actually more police officers than the county has,” Barrett said. “Without our assistance ... and the assistance from the other tribes ... the county would not be able to do its law enforcement.”

Hard to pin down

Shawnee City Manager Brian McDougal said he could not say exactly how far the city's revenues have fallen due to the tribes' retail business activities.

“They've got a large grocery store and lots of retail enterprises that have popped up around the area,” McDougal said. “We're not seeing any sales tax from any of those businesses. Our city is struggling to pay for basic services.”

“I've only been here five years ... this has been going on since I got here.”

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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