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Citizens ask for ‘credible explanation’ on tribal trust land issues

Citizens ask for ‘credible explanation’ on tribal trust land issues

Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2015 8:00 am in the Prior Lake American

By Wes Mader Guest Commentary

City Manager Frank Boyles works for the residents and taxpayers of Prior Lake. So why is he adamant in support of Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) efforts to put more land into tax-free trust?

Tax-free means no real estate tax, no state income tax and exemption from some other taxes. How is removing prime develop-able land from the tax rolls in the best interest of his employers?

Consider the following:

During the 1990s and early 2000s, it was city policy, in collaboration with Scott County and the city of Shakopee, to oppose SMSC applications to place more land into tax-free trust. Reasons are obvious. But that policy was changed without warning or advance notice at a City Council meeting on Dec. 4, 2005. Mayor Jack Haugen set new precedent by introducing a letter of support for an SMSC application to transfer land into tax-free trust. With regard to how long the land would remain in trust, Boyles’ exact statement was “I think it’s typically 20 years.” His statement was clearly incorrect.

A few weeks later at an open forum, numerous residents, including a citizen group identified as offthecouch.org, expressed complete frustration with the council’s action. While questioning why Boyles gave the council incorrect information, they specifically asked “Why did Boyles tell the council that the land only stayed in trust for 20 years?” Then, as now, Boyles offered no response.

Now fast-forward to September of last year. After considerable City Council deliberation and disclosure about plans to extend Stemmer Ridge Road from Spring Lake Estates to County Road 82, the SMSC stepped in and purchased the involved property. Subsequent proposals by Boyles in response to the tribe’s acquisition raised a red flag, prompting Citizens for Accountable Government to request copies of email communications Boyles and tribal representatives. Here’s what we found:

Almost immediately after the tribe’s purchase, Boyles sent an email to SMSC Tribal Administrator Bill Rudnicki, requesting a meeting for Oct. 1. One day later, Oct. 2, Boyles’ email to the tribal administrator listed “timeline for delivery of trust endorsement” as the first item he wanted to include in an agreement with the tribe.

Unless there is some other plausible explanation, it would appear that Boyles opted on his own, without council direction or concurrence, to tell SMSC officials that City Hall would support removal of the recently purchased land from the city, county and school district tax base.

Numerous emails between Boyles and tribal representatives followed. In an email to tribal representatives dated Oct. 31, Boyles states, “We have had people testify at the public hearing. As a result of the public hearing testimony, the City Council directed staff to review three options and report back. Each option we are to look at theoretically addresses concerns raised in the testimony. We of course have added the fourth option – yours – with the expectation that it will prevail.”

It would appear that Boyles is dismissive of citizen concerns as expressed openly at a public hearing, but totally responsive to an SMSC proposal that received no public scrutiny.

In a Nov. 11 email from Boyles to Rudnicki pertaining to a meeting with tribal leaders, Boyles states “Should we bring copies of the agreement or will that only encourage policy makers to dive into the details?” Why was Boyles concerned about policy makers diving into details about a crucial agreement?

Boyles’ emails also requested information from tribal representatives for use in justifying why the SMSC should have more tax-free land. Ironically, none suggest an effort to make sure that taxpayers aren’t being hurt.

When the council scheduled a Jan. 12 workshop this year for a city attorney briefing on potential legal/contractual issues with the SMSC related to land going into trust, the city manager by email invited tribal representatives to sit in, and then in an email on Jan. 13, thanked them for their attendance. Is this an arms-length relationship?

All this begs the questions: Why are representatives of a wealthy sovereign nation that claims exemption from city, county and state laws and taxes given such a priority by City Hall? Why is Boyles pushing to transfer property into tax-free trust?

Can tax-paying residents have confidence in city government if the city’s chief executive officer is not held accountable? Boyles should publicly explain why he told the council that land placed into tribal trust would only stay in trust for “typically 20 years.” He also needs to explain his rush to get more tax-free land for the SMSC, and by whose authority he is acting. If Boyles cannot, or will not, offer a credible explanation for his actions, he does not deserve to continue as our city’s manager.

Wes Mader is chairman of Citizens for Accountable Government and a former mayor in Prior Lake.