January 18, 2017

City balks at providing tax documents to tribes

SHAWNEE, Okla. – A meeting of the minds over sales tax collections on tribal property may not be happening after all.

In a letter dated March 7, Shawnee Mayor Wes Mainord declined to provide almost all of the data requested by four tribes to substantiate claims that the City of Shawnee’s sales tax revenues are declining due to the increase of tribal businesses within the city limits, saying it was too early to furnish that information.

Citing slumping revenue streams, the city has been trying to collect sales tax dollars associated with tangible purchases made by non-Natives at tribal properties with a Shawnee mailing address. The Absentee Shawnee, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kickapoo and Sac and Fox each have at least one business within the city on trust land.

As per a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court decision, tribes do not have to remit state sales taxes on purchases made by tribal citizens on tribally-owned businesses located on reservations or trust land. However, the decision does not say anything about taxes levied by county or municipal governments.

“The city would like to meet with you with the goal of reaching an agreement for the collection, reporting, and remission of sales tax,” Mainord wrote. “While the city recognizes that, to reach this goal, all parties will have to share information, the city believes it is premature at this time to exchange data. We believe a more productive approach will be to discuss the types of information that will be necessary for all parties to review before reaching an agreement, and identify which party or entity is in possession of such information and responsible for providing the information.”

Tribal officials had offered to host a closed meeting with city representatives March 24 at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s cultural center, more than a month later than initially requested by Mainord and Shawnee City Manager Brian McDougal. The city has also requested that the meeting be moved from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s cultural heritage center to a campus of the Gordon Cooper Technology Center, a local vo-tech, citing a desire to conduct the negotiations at a neutral site, a move blasted by the four tribes.

“Since the city manager has publicly complained about your failure to obtain an earlier meeting date, we are reluctant to postpone the meeting date or agree to new conditions for the meeting while the city refuses to reasonably respond to our request,” Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett wrote.

“If you do not want to meet with a delegation from the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the Kickapoo Tribe and the Sac and Fox Nation, you may decline our invitation and we will consider the matter closed.”

Despite Mainord’s request that no attorneys be present at the initial meeting, three days before the letter was mailed, the Shawnee City Commission voted to retain the services of Modrall Sperling, a New Mexico-based law firm, to help facilitate an agreement with the four tribes over sales tax revenue.

The firm has previously represented the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Oklahoma Water Rights Board. It touts tribal law as among its practice areas.

In a statement released March 11, Citizen Potawatomi Nation chairman Rocky Barrett expressed his frustration with the city’s response, including the lack of requested data. The only information included with Mainord’s letter was preliminary figures comparing grocery sales from 1997 to 2012 at Wal-Mart and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s FireLake Discount Foods.

“We have received the latest letter from the city and we are disappointed by their unwillingness to provide us with the information that we requested,” Barrett said. “We asked for that data so that we could prepare for the meeting that they requested. All of the information that we asked for was subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act. The city is not acting in good faith by not responding to our request for information.

“Even more disappointing is that the city is providing data that is misleading and doesn’t take into account several economic factors that took place during that time; namely the struggle and eventual closing of three grocery stores in Shawnee and the opening of Wal-Mart Supercenter, K-Mart and Braums, which all report food sales as general merchandise.

“We believe the city has the obligation to substantiate their claim that city sales tax has declined and support their premise that tribal economic development is directly responsible for it. They are still looking for a scapegoat for their lack of competent management and the tribes are not it. The city continues its negative attacks on the tribes and to squander taxpayers’ money. “

Shawnee city officials could not be reached for comment.