Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bay Mills' Property in Flint Township not 'Indian Lands,' not Sovereign; Not Exempt from Taxes, Codes & Regulations

Flint Township shouldn’t fall under the spell of the The Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC) – and certainly not yet. 

So why have BMIC officials launched a whirlwind public Romance with Flint Township? Beware, it doesn't benefit Flint Township.

BMIC Tribal Chair Jeffrey Parker | Not being honest with
Flint Township voters so he can get re-elected at Bay Mills.
Could the motivations be (1) political? You bet!  If BMIC Tribal Chair Jeff Parker could get an agreement or the suggestion of an imminent agreement with Flint Township, that might help him win re-election on Nov. 2.  Parker has had a firm grip on the tribe for a generation and now many are displeased with his schemes and promises.  He was challenged in the tribe’s primary where he got just 42% of the vote.  He eeked out another candidate by just 19 more votes and now he’s got to run against that candidate in the General Election next month.

But more importantly, could the motivations be (2) intended to give the tribe and its secret backers special and unnecessary financial advantages? Most likely. Could it be designed to (3) cheat the town out of rightful property taxes that fund not only emergency services but also local schools and other public services?  Most certainly!

There is no need to rush into an emergency services agreement that gives the tribe special treatment and accepts something less than the usual property taxes everyone else pay.  Despite representations by BMIC, Parker and other mouthpieces for the tribe’s developer, the property in Flint Township controlled by BMIC is not exempt from the usual property taxes today.

The property in Flint Township acquired by BMIC last year isn’t sovereign “Indian Lands” despite representations and therefore that property is not exempt from the usual taxes.  Indian “owned” does not necessarily mean “Indian Lands.”

In shutting down the Bay Mills rogue casino in Vanderbilt last Spring, the Court (Judge Maloney) ruled that the property in Vanderbilt, 100 miles away from the tribe’s Upper Penninsula reservation, does not qualify as “Indian Lands.” If that's the case in Vanderbilt, it's the case in Flint Township. Specifically from that ruling (pgs 10-11):

Section 107(a)(3) authorizes the earnings of the Land Trust to be used for two specific purposes: (1) improvements on tribal land and (2) the consolidation and enhancement of tribal landholdings. Bay Mills does not suggest or argue that the Vanderbilt Tract constitutes an “improvement on tribal land.” Bay Mills defends the purchase as authorized by the second purpose. In the context of this provision, the statutory language has a plain and obvious meaning. The word “consolidate” means “to bring together or unify.”9 The word “enhance” means “to improve or make greater” or “to augment.”10 Obviously, the purchase of the Vanderbilt Tract is an enhancement of tribal landholdings, as the additional land augmented, or made greater, the total land possessed by Bay Mills. However, the statute does not authorize every enhancement. The statute uses the conjunction “and” between the word “consolidation” and the word “enhancement.” The use of the word “and” cannot be ignored. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 404 (2000) (“It is, however, a cardinal principle of statutory construction that we must ‘give effect, if possible, to every clause and word of a statute.’”) (citations omitted). In order for the purchase of land to be an “enhancement” authorized by the § 107(a)(3), the purchase must also be a “consolidation.” The statute requires any land purchase to be both a consolidation and an enhancement. Under §107(a)(3), Bay Mills may use the earnings from the land trust to acquire additional land next to, or at least near, its existing tribal landholdings. The statute does not allow Bay Mills to create a patchwork of tribal landholdings across Michigan.

BMIC is cheating Flint Township if it doesn't pay the usual taxes. And this is no way to start a relationship.  Lying and cheating from the beginning.  Misrepresenting yourself.  If this is their way of business today, imagine what you can expect a year or two down the line when things get rocky. 

Given Judge Maloney’s ruling, it is reasonable that property taxes should be levied and collected on the BMIC property just like any other taxpayer.  Why give BMIC special treatment or defer payments today when there are too many unknowns?  But even more, why get locked into an agreement on property that might not be developed for ten years or more. Circumstances could change during that time. Consider that the people in Port Huron have been promised a BMIC casino time and time again, over the course of two decades, and still there’s nothing.

Why even spend time and money negotiating an agreement with BMIC right now?  Flint Township leaders should wait until the tribe resolves its related legal issues.  And since Parker is on record saying he wants to be the town’s good faith partner, then BMIC should start paying timely property taxes now and stay current with payments just like every other taxpayer is expected to do without seeking special treatment. And Parker should immediately stop misrepresenting his Flint Township property as sovereign land.  Represent the truth.

Flint Township residents, civic and business leaders shouldn’t get their hopes up for a BMIC windfall.  If history is any gauge you’ll only get your heartbroken time and time again. Ask the people of Vanderbilt now that payments have stopped.  Ask the people of Port Huron. And worse yet, expect you/ll get left standing alone at the alter and having to pay all the costs of a wedding and reception anyway.

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