SHAWNEE — Mayor Wes Mainord says Shawnee has lost out on $4 million because a massive grocery store run by an American Indian tribe has failed to send the city any sales tax money.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Chairman John Barrett says his tribe doesn’t need to pay anything to the city, and Shawnee has no power to force payment.
Their competing and sometimes heated comments are included in letters between the tribe and the city, and while both sides seem far apart, they are to meet Monday.
“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss whether the city and the tribal nations can agree to terms on which the tribal nations will collect and pay city sales taxes for sales to non-members at tribal enterprises owed under the decisions of the United States Supreme Court,” Mainord said in a letter to Barrett on Monday.
“After the Citizen Potawatomi Nation opened its FireLake grocery in 2001, the city’s sales tax revenues attributable to groceries declined by over $300,000 by the third year of operation.
“Even if we assumed that there had been no increase in sales due to growth and inflation, that indicates a loss to the city of approximately $4,000,000 since FireLake grocery opened.”
The Oklahoman attempted to contact Mainord on Wednesday. He refused to comment.
Barrett responded in a letter Wednesday:
“If you will check with the Pottawatomie County District Attorney, or your own chief of police, they will tell you that the City of Shawnee does not have police powers or the legal ability to compel the Citizen Potawatomi Nation or any tribe to do anything in its sovereign territory.”
The grocery store has a Shawnee address, but Barrett said the store is part of his tribe’s sovereign nation and stressed there’s no practical way for the city to enforce its demands for tax money from the tribe.
“If you wish you can try ... stopping cars coming out of our businesses, make them prove where they live and that they are not citizens of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, then empty their sacks and scan their groceries and collect your 3 percent new tax,” Barrett stated. “I don’t think your citizens will take it.”
“You are trying to bully the (tribe).”
The tribe is the area’s largest employer by far and operates several successful business ventures in and around Shawnee, including a wildly profitable casino perched along a busy section of Interstate 40, just a few miles east of the Oklahoma County line.