County, PCI closer to meeting?

Published 2:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Did a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday have an impact on the ongoing war of words between the Escambia County Commission and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians?

It depends, of course, on whom you ask.

The commission’s attorney, state Sen. Bryan Taylor, who was hired this spring to advise the county on the issue of taxing the tribe’s property, says yes. But tribal officials said Tuesday the ruling — which allows a lawsuit that seeks to shut down a Michigan tribe’s casino to go forward — said the ruling is too narrow to have any impact.

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“The case stems from a Michigan man’s lawsuit against the U.S. Interior Secretary for taking land into trust for an Indian casino,” Taylor said Monday. “The court rejected the Interior Secretary’s arguments that the land was protected once the federal government accepted title to it.

“This ruling — the second U.S. Supreme Court case the Interior Secretary has lost on this issue — proves that the Interior Secretary’s letter to the Escambia County Commission isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.

But PCI tribal chairman and governmental relations adviser Robert McGhee said the Supreme Court decision has little to do with PCI or with the tribe’s dispute with the county. McGhee said he is confident the ruling does not impact the Tribe and is confident in the security of the status of the tribe’s land held in federal trust.

“(Bryan Taylor) has nothing to gain out of this,” he said. “So why is he taking various Supreme Court decisions and saying this makes it sound like the Supreme Court has decided something for Poarch Creek Indians? It’s just not true.”

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling is linked to an earlier ruling in a Rhode Island case, in which justices ruled that the interior secretary did not have the authority to take land into trust for a tribe recognized after 1934.

Both sides in the local dispute disagree about whether the so-called Carcieri case affects the Atmore-based tribe, but if a court were to rule that PCI’s land is not federally protected, it could not only be subject to taxation but to state gaming laws — which could effectively close Wind Creek Casino.

Taylor said Monday’s ruling also dashes the “Quiet Title defense” the tribe has used.

“The band has claimed, however, the ruling doesn’t apply on lands that are already held in federal trust and that such tax-advantaged lands are protected from a legal challenge by the federal Quiet Title Act,” he said. “The Supreme Court took that argument away from the Band today, ruling that the Quiet Title Act only protects Indian lands from competing claims of ownership.”

But even as the legal battles continue at the state and federal levels, McGhee said, in Escambia County, the tribe is ready to meet with the commission.

“Of course we’re happy to meet with them,” McGhee said. “I just hope that they don’t come in and say, ‘OK we want this and this,’ and if we don’t abide by their demands then they go back and say, ‘We tried to have a meeting with them and we threw out this figure just to throw it out.’ That’s not a meeting.”