FLINT TWP. — Legal issues still block the development of a proposed casino here but representatives of the Bay Mills Indian Community confidently approached the Township Board of Trustees to begin discussions about public safety and other necessary services.
“ We came down for an official meeting, wanted to make ourselves known and begin the dialog, the relationship between the tribe and the township,” said Jeff Parker, chairman of the Bay Mills executive board, who spoke at the township board meeting Monday night with tribal attorneys Kathryn Tierney and Chad DePetro.
Parker said the tribe wants to negotiate deputization agreements with the police department and arrange for fire protection, water and sewer service and discuss other economic development plans they say will create 700 jobs.
Bay Mills purchased 28 acres of land at Lennon and Dutcher roads in December with plans to build a casino there but the project is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit by the state of Michigan and another tribe. That lawsuit challenges the legality of a Bay Mills casino opened in Vanderbilt which was shut down by court order in March.
Township trustee Frank Kasle asked whether it is premature to be talking about police and fire protection in Flint Township prior to resolution of the Vanderbilt lawsuit.
“Unless you are successful in the lawsuit, all of this is moot,” Kasle said.
Despite two failed appeals in federal court, DePetro said he expected to see legal matters resolved by next summer and the tribe’s right to do what it wants with its land would prevail.
“ We don’t think that is ambiguous, we don’t think that is doubtful, we think that is very clear,’’ he said after explaining the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act under which Congress established Land Trust funds tribes used to purchase land that then becomes Indian territory.
Parker and lawyers maintain that the Lennon Road property – developed or not – is now Indian lands as defined by federal law and no longer subject to the jurisdiction of local or state law enforcement.
Parker said he did not think putting off service agreements was in the best interest of all concerned. He also said it is his understanding that the land is not taxable but the tribe will pay its fair share for public services.
Underscoring the importance of public safety, Tierney said that without those agreements in place, anyone who commits a crime on the property would be able to challenge the state’s jurisdiction by arguing that the state has no power over Indian lands, she said.
Tribes have their own police and government.
“ The best way to ensure – regardless of whose laws apply – that the people are protected from any potential crime or from fire or medical emergencies is to have a cooperative agreement in place between the tribe and the local unit of government,’’ she said.
“ There are many other activities that can occur on that property that will include people living there or working there or recreating there. We would be well-served as good neighbors and good government to address those (issues) up front rather than wait until there is a problem and we are caught flat-footed.”
Township treasurer Sandra Wright asked if the 700 projected jobs would be open to anyone or only Indians. Parker said they would be open to anyone.
A full house of residents turned out to hear the presentation and to comment. Citing familiarity with other Indian-owned casinos where promises allegedly were not kept and rules not followed, some cautioned the township board to proceed carefully and “get everything in writing.”
Township Supervisor Karyn Miller, referencing comments and concerns she has received from residents, clarified the township’s lack of legal authority over a sovereign Indian nation. “It is my understanding that you are not coming to our board for approval … on that land, you are just looking for cooperation,” she said.
Miller asked Parker to keep the board updated on the status of the lawsuit and future developments.