What happened to the Tribal-City Advisory Committee?

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“When is the next tribal-city meeting? We’ve had only one. Is there another one scheduled?”

That was the question from resident Scott Miller during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s City Council meeting. According to City Manager Ron Strand, the council made the decision in a closed-session meeting earlier this year to discontinue the committee meetings — though not all of the council seemed to remember that decision.

“I don’t remember the council stating we wouldn’t have meetings. But if we did, OK,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “I would like for it to start up again. Does anybody have any objections to that?”

The committee is described in the tribal-city Municipal Services Agreement for the purpose of addressing concerns with the agreement and potential amendments. Councilmember Lindsey Stephens serves as chairperson, but the committee hasn’t met since December.

Legal Counsel Lloyd Pilchen said the committee wasn’t a requirement until the city-tribal MSA was active, but he said there’s “nothing stopping anyone from having these meetings.”

Councilmember Wallace Martin was opposed to reviving the committee meetings until the Department of the Interior makes a decision on whether to take the land into trust.

“It is all premature until then,” said Martin. “We have talked, we have talked and we have talked.”

“I want the best casino project we can get,” said Breeden. “I want our issues dealt with. I want our concerns answered. I don’t want to discuss this for the next 25 years. I don’t know why we can’t discuss this.”

“With almost every other program like this, you take the land into trust first and then you deal with the MSA,” said Martin. “This thing has been backwards from day one. It’s just premature at this point. The decision is in the hands of the gentleman at the Department of the Interior. Period.

“We have said our concerns need to be met in the form of a formal amended MSA, which has been denied multiple times.”

During the last and only committee meeting, the tribe declined to incorporate any additional language regarding cannabis restrictions into the MSA. Tribal Chairman George Gholson said he wasn’t opposed to the changes, but didn’t want to reopen the MSA until the casino project got rolling.

“It took us so long to get this thing passed, I didn’t think it wise to reopen it for discussion,” he said in a previous interview.

“To force the issue before it’s taken into trust is used as a political tool to get the Department of the Interior to sign this thing,” said Martin.

Stephens reminded council that this item was not on the agenda and the discussion was beginning to take up substantial public comment time.

Councilmembers made no decision on the matter during that meeting, but Gholson addressed them in later public comment.

Gholson thanked the council for approving Strand’s trip to Washington, D.C., earlier this month to express the city’s support of the project to James Cason, associate deputy secretary of the Department of Interior.

“I think it was enlightening for your city manager to go and see the process,” he said.

“It’s amazing to me how many Indian experts there seem to be when I’m pretty sure they’ve never experienced Indian country, have never experienced the process the tribe has to go through and further are unable to appreciate what transpires.”

The city is still waiting for the Department of Interior’s decision. Strand also announced that the department would be requiring the project to undergo a National Environmental Protection Act review.

See future editions of the News Review for more information.

Story First Published: 2018-04-20