After exchanging numerous letters, City of Shawnee officials and leaders from the four area Tribes met face-to-face Monday to discuss sales tax issues, although reactions on how that meeting went were vastly different from each side.

After exchanging numerous letters, City of Shawnee officials and leaders from the four area Tribes met face-to-face Monday to discuss sales tax issues, although reactions on how that meeting went were vastly different from each side.

Closed to the general public, the two-hour meeting was attended by about 60 people, including leaders and representatives from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Absentee Shawnee, Kickapoo and Sac and Fox Nation, along with representatives from the city.

Shawnee Mayor Wes Mainord and other city officials expressed in written statements that the meeting was positive with good dialogue.

But Citizen Potawatomi Nation Chairman John Barrett, also in a written statement, said the meeting “did not go well” and said city officials left only one choice to CPN: to meet the city’s demands for tax collections or be sued in federal court.

The city of Shawnee wants the Tribes to collect and remit the city’s 3-cent sales tax for all sales made to non-tribal members at tribal enterprises, but tribal leaders say they are sovereign nations and aren’t required to collect or remit any city sales tax.

Reactions from CPN

“From the perspective of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the meeting was little more than a cosmetic attempt to make the city appear reasonable in the public eye because they offered to ‘negotiate,’” Barrett said.

He added the city has not acted in good faith during the so-called negotiations by making false statements and turning the issue into a public controversy.

“Rather than take the time, and courtesy, to propose to meet in a demonstration of mutual respect, the city has chosen to threaten litigation and attack as by way of press release prior to the meeting, then act as if they were generous in doing so,” he said.

Barrett said Mainord refused to acknowledge Tribal sovereignty and Tribal jurisdiction. He said when it was told to Mainord the land on which the tribal governments operate is deeded to the United States and held in trust as federal land that is not part of Shawnee, Mainord said “we disagree.”

“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,” Barrett said. “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.”

Although tribal economic development is known for gaming, Barrett said it shouldn’t be limited to that and tribes have struggled throughout the years to make economic dreams a reality.

“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,” he said.

While collection of sales tax is the reason for the meeting, Barrett said without tribal job creation, sales tax growth is not possible.

“Without Tribal development there is little growth in our cities and state,” he 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. We make every effort to shop in our local communities and spend $0.30 of every dollar in Shawnee. Our economic impact has reached more than $522 million and 100 percent of the sales tax we collect stays in Pottawatomie County.”

Barrett said the City of Shawnee is trying to punish the tribes for their success.

“This attempt to punish the tribes for their success is a regrettable strategy and a misguided attempt to stifle economic success that will result in all Oklahomans losing out, no matter what their heritage.”

City of Shawnee statements

“We are pleased that these tribal leaders were willing to meet with us,” Mainord said in a written release from the city Monday afternoon. “The dialogue is important, and I think we all learned something from the discussion.”

Mainord, along with City Manager Brian McDougal, Vice Mayor James Harrod and Commissioner Keith Hall were there to speak on behalf of the city. Mainord said the city’s attorney, Mary Ann Karns, attended but didn’t participate in any discussion.

During the meeting, the city’s release shows that Mainord apologized to the representatives of the Tribal Nations if the City had shown disrespect for them or for their sovereignty, saying that had never been the intent of the Shawnee city commission.

“We recognize the contributions of the Tribal Nations to our community and the economic development they have brought,” he said. The mayor also emphasized that no decision has been made by the Commission to begin litigation against any of the Tribal Nations.

McDougal said he thought there were many positive aspects to the meeting and that the City would attempt to go forward in reaching an agreement.

“We have some fundamental disagreements, but I hope we can work together,” McDougal said.

Vice Mayor James Harrod and Commissioner Keith Hall agreed.

“Even though we have differences of opinion about whether some businesses are located within Shawnee’s jurisdiction, we want to work together for the betterment of the Tribal Nations, the City and the County,” Harrod said.

Hall indicated a “genuine and strong interest” in further meetings for substantive discussion designed to come to an agreement.

As part of Monday’s meeting, the city also presented a letter to address Barrett’s previous requests for the city’s explanation for any court rulings that give the city authority to force a federally recognized Tribal Nation to collect sales taxes.

According to that letter signed by Mainord, federal common law permit states and cities to “require that Indian retailers on reservations collect and remit sales tax earned on sales made to non-Indians or to Indians who are not members of the tribe governing the reservation,” with that letter listing citation notes for several court cases.

That letter further indicates the city can enforce the Tribes’ duty if the city and Tribes can’t reach an agreement.

Despite the differences on how Monday’s meeting went, all indications from both sides pointed to a second meeting in the near future, although no dates were set.

Watch for updates.