County, PCI hold long awaited meeting

Published 7:54 pm Thursday, July 26, 2012

A better line of communication is what Poarch Creek and Escambia County officials said came out of the long awaited meeting between the two governing bodies Tuesday night at Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore.

Following the months-long legal and verbal battle between the two over the issue of taxation of current PCI trust lands, Commissioners Brandon Smith and David Quarker, who represent the western portion of the county, and Creek tribal council members sat down to discuss possible solutions to the ongoing dispute.

Tribal Councilman Robert McGhee said he was satisfied with the progress made during what he feels was the first of several meetings to come.

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“The meeting went great,” McGhee said. “We were glad to have the opportunity to sit down with Commissioners Quarker and Smith and it looks like this is the beginning of getting things back on track.”

Smith and Quarker each agreed the meeting opened a much-needed window of communication they hope will be sustained.

“I had a good feeling about it,” Smith said. “We’ve got a long way to go as far as repairing the relationship, but Poarch told us how they felt about some things and they were able to answer a lot of questions for us, and we answered questions for them.”

“It was a very pleasant meeting,” Quarker said. “As far as the details, I can’t get into any until we sit down with the rest of the commission. But we both agreed we needed more communication and respect between the two governments.”

McGhee said the meeting was very basic, with each side expressing their wants and concerns.

“We talked about basic concerns and some changes and help with various projects,” he said. “But it was very general and nothing was decided. We didn’t set up a time for another meeting, but we will in the future.”

Despite the lack of discussion of specific solutions to the taxation issue, Quarker said the commission did present some ideas to the tribal council concerning various topics.

“We made our presentation and they didn’t agree or disagree with it,” Quarker said. “But they said they would take it into consideration and we’ll meet some time next week with the rest of the commission and get into some details we discussed.”

Smith, who has been the sole commissioner to side with PCI during the conflict, said he was not especially fond of the requests the commission made of the tribe.

“There were some requests that we took to them,” Smith said. “I won’t say that I agree with them but I did take them to them for them to look over.”

While Smith said he could not yet divulge the specifics of the county’s presentations, he felt the requests represented only a portion of the commission’s total concerns.

“The majority of the commission felt like this list was fair,” he said. “I don’t feel that way and the tribe has the option to turn them down. I’m not real comfortable with what we presented to them, but it was my job as a commissioner and county representative to present it.”
Even with his concerns over the county’s requests, Smith said the meeting was, overall, a very positive experience, once again stressing the importance of communication.

“There’s always been this tension between the county and PCI and (tribal leaders) felt like they wanted a better line of communication between the two governments,” Smith said. “And that’s what I’ve wanted from the beginning. We’re neighboring governments and we should be able to talk and work things out. When you have a better line of communication if feels like you’re talking to your friends and not in there wondering what the other guys are thinking about you.”

Smith also added that, while a date has not yet been worked out, more meetings between the two entities are sure to come.
“This first meeting was just a chance to sit down and talk and if things don’t suit them or us we’ll go back and talk again,” he said. “PCI mainly just wanted to hear what we had to say.”

Commission Chairman David Stokes said he has gotten little information about the results of the meeting but he said Friday that he believes there is work yet to be done.

“It’s disappointing to hear that nothing was accomplished,” Stokes said Friday. “Hypothetically, we have a government-to-government relationship, however, they had their entire tribal council present at the meeting when only two of our commissioners were invited. That doesn’t sound like a government-to-government relationship to me. This certainly isn’t a surprise.”