|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
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Commissioners give blessing to tribal gaming, police efforts
BY VALERIE REDDELL
LIVINGSTON — Polk County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a resolution supporting efforts by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas to legalize gaming in tribal lands, a measure to be debated by state lawmakers during the current legislative session. Kyle Williams, Tribal Council Co-Chairman for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, told commissioners an eighth bill related to gambling was filed Monday and he expects a “tribes only” bill to be filed Wednesday or Thursday. Officials with Texas Indian tribes have shown some willingness to compromise on legislation that includes certain racetracks. “Rep. John Otto, Rep. James White and Rep. Sefronia Thompson are carrying our bill,” Williams said. “We have gained a lot of support through the years and built good relationships with our representatives.” Williams said the draft resolution put before commissioners is a continuing resolution that was passed unanimously by the court several years ago. “We want to make sure that we have the continuing support of local governments as we work to legalize gaming efforts through legislation,” Williams said. Pct. 1 Commissioner Bob Willis noted the resolution didn’t speak to any specific bill. “I think a subject that is going to be very important to a lot of people is that we give citizens a voice in it,” Willis said. “What we support is a local election yes or no on this issue.” Williams countered that any countywide referendum will draw in a lot of resources from outside the area to oppose any gaming in tribal lands. “In 2001 more than $32 million was spent to shut us down. What we’re planning on is a statewide election. Because we’re so close to Louisiana, there will be a lot of money that will pour into the county to oppose us.” Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Overstreet said he supported the tribe’s efforts, but not “gambling in every convenience store in Texas.” Pct. 3 Commissioner Milt Purvis voiced his support for a referendum on a constitutional amendment. “We’ll have to get two-thirds of the House and twothirds of the Senate for a constitutional amendment,” Williams said. “That bypasses a veto from the governor.” “I don’t feel comfortable supporting a resolution that supports gambling automatically,” Willis said. “We support the people being able to vote on legalization of gambling.” Commissioners also unanimously supported a resolution to create a law enforcement agency on the federally reserved tribal land. “This is one of my babies,” Williams said. “We’ve been trying to implement a law enforcement agency on the reservation and I have spoken with both Sheriff (Kenneth) Hammack and Sheriff (David) Hennigan). We have land in both counties. This objective is to be able to police our own reservation with officers commissioned by TCLEOSE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education).” Williams said the reservation currently has a nine officers on its tribal security force, five are certified peace officers. Passage of the legislation would create an agency similar to the municipal police forces in Onalaska and Corrigan. “We have good rapport with Sheriff Hammack and Sheriff Hennigan, but we can’t commission our own people. They can easily commission us and easily take it away,” Williams said. “We don’t want to look into the future to a day when someone has a different agenda.” Williams said he expects a bill to be authored by Sen. Robert Nichols and sponsored by Otto and White in the Texas House. In answer to a question from Overstreet, Williams said the tribe could create its own police force under federal regulations, but those offi cers would be limited to enforce federal laws. “We want to implement it under state laws,” Williams said. He added that funds for the agency will come from a federal appropriation. Hammack added that offi cers will have to complete a law enforcement academy, be licensed by TCLEOSE and the agency will have to keep records for continuing education just as any other law enforcement organization in the state. The resolution passed unanimously. Audit report Robert Belt of Belt Harris Pechacek LLLP delivered a clean, unqualifi ed opinion on the county’s fi nancial records for the 2010 fi scal year. “This is the highest assurance that all disclosures and fi nancial accounts are materially correct,” Belt told commissioners. Belt added that there is a tremendous amount of fi nancial information about the county in the report delivered Tuesday. The County Auditors Offi ce has posted the entire report on the county’s website, www. co.polk.tx.us under the “fi nancial transparency reporting” link. Belt noted that in comparing the budget to actual revenue expenses in the general fund, revenue fell short by $643,000. “Everybody knows this is not a very good economic climate we’re in,” Belt said. “All others are positive budget variances totaling $627,000. That almost offset the reduction in revenues.” The net difference was $2,813. “That’s about as close as you can get,” Belt said.