Local leaders seek amity with Shakopee tribe

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2012 - 10:01 PM

Working group is part of an effort to help the county, cities and tribe get on the same page.

A new era is expected to begin this week in the troubled history of relationships between the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and its neighbors on all sides.

With one last vote on Tuesday morning, the tribe and the county and cities that surround it will have for the first time a formal structure aimed at heading off damaging conflicts before they get out of hand.

Though it also brings in Prior Lake and Scott County, the new Intergovernmental Working Group feels as though it flows from the mandate given to Shakopee's new mayor, who campaigned last fall on a pledge to thaw the city's often-frigid relations with the tribe.

"There's definitely a link from my perspective," Mayor Brad Tabke said. "I heard that a lot during the campaign: people wanting to make sure we work together to get things done, as opposed to working against each other." Tribal Chairman Stanley Crooks and others, Tabke said, also have moved toward a more open relationship, "as opposed to being insular, as they have been at times."

Votes last week by the city councils in Shakopee and Prior Lake to endorse the new arrangement don't end Shakopee's challenge to the tribe's latest move to take more land off the tax rolls.

Apropos, Prior Lake Mayor Mike Myser stressed that this isn't really a sudden sea change.

"These are complex matters," he said. "There are things where, in our mutual interest, we can work together, and there will be sources of conflict. A mayor has to look after his own city. We just need to work and manage through these things, to try and build and grow the entire pie that we all share. This memorandum of understanding is a great first step."

Tribal leaders rarely grant interviews, but their top administrator has made appearances on camera lately in front of the public bodies and signaled their interest in working together more closely.

"There needs to be maybe more of a process," tribal administrator Bill Rudnicki told Shakopee council members recently as they recalled their chagrin in failing to get information the way they were supposed to when the tribe's latest land-trust application was launched.

The city felt "blindsided," he acknowledged, when the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs "wasn't quick to send out information. We sent it on our own accord. The city administrator wanted it and we got it to him within 24 hours."

If avoiding needless scrapes is one goal, though, the mayors stress that it's also about creating an atmosphere of problem-solving.

Tangible case in point: the imminent opening of a transit station serving Prior Lake, on leased tribal land, that also will be of benefit to the tribe itself in transporting its own workers to and from the Mystic Lake Casino.

The lease of a prime piece of land will save surrounding entities a fortune vs. having to buy it on the open market, and the Metropolitan Council's initial refusal to endorse the concept ignited fury in local officials. Then-council Chairman Peter Bell, confronted in a tense meeting over the stark realities of the deal, was visibly thrown off-stride and promised to look into his staff's by-the-books reluctance.

Under the terms of the deal, each entity -- county, cities and tribe -- will appoint members to a group that will "have no jurisdictional powers that would expand, restrict, limit or waive the regulatory authority or the jurisdiction or the sovereignty of any of the governments," according to a memo prepared for Scott County commissioners in preparation for their chance to endorse it on Tuesday.

The county would appoint its board chairman and two senior administrators to the group, which would meet at least once every three months.

If Tabke was elected in part on a pledge to try to turn the influential tribe into an ally, Myser says there's "no doubt" that becoming Prior Lake's mayor and seeing government from the inside has affected him.

"I can't tell you how much I've learned on all sorts of aspects," Myser said. "I went through my life before with no clue at all for instance of all the things they do," including a host of cooperative arrangements apart from the transit land deal.

"My eyes have been opened on a lot of things. The relationship we have is not simple, there's no black or white, and for anyone to come down flatly on one side or the other is mistaken. It's a complex relationship."

Tabke agreed. "I wouldn't quite call this a turning point," he said, "but it is a great step."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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