Public reacts to PCI, ECC debate

Published 5:00 am Saturday, April 28, 2012

As officials with both the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Escambia County Commission continue to work toward a solution regarding an ongoing dispute over whether or not the Tribe should retain land currently held “in trust” by the federal government, public opinion regarding the matter is building.

The issues between the two governmental bodies began with a public meeting held earlier in the month by the Escambia County

Commission.  During a press conference, Chairman David Stokes announced the group’s intention to push for a ruling that would force PCI to pay taxes on land currently out of reach from state and local governments – land that includes Atmore’s Wind Creek Casino and Hotel.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The commission is pointing to a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case as proof positive the Tribe’s land should be taxed, while Tribal officials have said the ruling’s language shows their land is not jeopardy of losing its “in trust” status.

Currently both parties are awaiting a response from a letter from the commission to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior requesting aid in upholding the 2009 ruling and the public is becoming more outspoken in their support of one entity or the other.

In a recent Atmore Advance poll the public weighed in, with 64 percent voting in favor of PCI retaining their “in trust” status and 36 percent believing the Tribe should pay taxes on the land.

Hanging in the balance, however, is much more than just property tax. Should the commission’s efforts be successful the Tribe would be forced to close the doors at Wind Creek Casino, which operates video gaming machines currently illegal in Alabama. The Tribe has operated the machines without consequence due to their status as a sovereign entity, a categorization they would lose if the commission succeeds.

Local resident Ruby Hendrix White said county commissioners are simply being greedy and unappreciative.

“I think that the commissioners should really look at what the Indians have done for the county and the schools,” she said. “If you figure what they have paid out to the county and schools and the jobs they have gave to the local people, they have well paid taxes. What is going to happen is they are going to cause them to have (Wind Creek) shut down and look at the jobless people the state and county will have. They really should open their eyes to this matter.”

McCullough resident Jarrod Jones echoed White’s sentiment in favor of the Indians.

“Leave the Indians alone,” Jones said. “As a McCullough resident I appreciate their fire and police services. Their school donations are very generous, not to mention it’s the only thing going for Atmore. If the county and state want a piece of the pie they need to figure out a way to get gambling legalized for the state. Look at the money Florida and Georgia make off of their lottery. Alabama could be doing it too and wouldn’t have to worry about PCI.”

Atmore resident Shelia Odom was also critical of the ECC and their hiring of attorney Bryan Taylor, a state Senator and former advisor to the heavily anti-gambling Riley administration.

“Where is the money coming from to pay Mr. Taylor? If the county is broke and cannot repair roads and help the schools but can pay Mr. Taylor. Wow.”

With a majority of local residents seeming to fall on the side of the embattled PCI Tribe, only time will tell if the commission will be successful in enforcing a legal precedent they believe the Tribe must adhere to.