By LORI ANN EDMO
FORT HALL — A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation has determined the city of Pocatello has discriminated against the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in language it used in lease agreements with businesses and other entities at the Pocatello Airport.
The investigation determined the city’s lease agreement provisions created several obstructions for airport tenants that engage with the Tribes. “It is foreseeable that the provisions would discourage tenants from working with the Tribes,” the letter reads that was sent to Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad. “As a result the Tribes will have fewer business opportunities and suffer stigma from the disparate treatment by the City.”
The Tribes requested the investigation in 2016 for violating federal funding provisions related to the city of Pocatello’s lease language. The leases prohibited tenants from communicating or entering into any agreements regarding the leased premises with the Tribes without first obtaining the city’s blessing – failure to do so is a violation of the lease. The language also said if the city’s tenant received communications from the Tribes, the tenant must immediately provide the city with a copy of any correspondence or material received.
The FAA said within 30 days of the date of the letter (August 3) the city must identify specific corrective action that will take and the timeline for coming into compliance – modify the lease provisions language so that it does not specifically target the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in all current (open) and future contractual agreements or remove the identified lease provisions in their entirety in all current (open) and future contractual agreements.
Tribal officials requested a public apology from Mayor Blad but City Public Information Officer Logan McDougall said the city will not be apologizing and it was never the city of Pocatello’s intent or policy to discriminate.
McDougall said in a statement the city of Pocatello amended its airport lease terms in March 2017 to meet the FAA requirements as well as clarify any perceived miscommunication over the language.
The city of Pocatello hired a national law firm to represent them and the attorneys wrote in a June 26, 2017 letter to the FAA “Despite the Tribes best efforts to muddle the issue, they have provided no legal or factual support for their allegation that is city is in violation of Grant Assurance 30.” The attorneys also said in the letter “Nothing in the city code regulates the ability of its tenants to enter into business, contractual or employment relationships with natural persons (including those who happen to be members of the Tribes) or with corporate entities (regardless of the entity’s relationship with the Tribes).” “If the Tribes arguments were accepted, then it would follow that the countries of Iran or Sudan could sue for discrimination. Obviously this would be absurd and unsupported by anything within the Civil Rights Act,” the letter reads.
The Tribes statement said they’re not sure why the city’s attorneys used a comparison of predominantly Islamic nations to an American Indian tribe but believe cultural sensitivity training for their law firm and city would be appropriate.
Fort Hall Business Council Chairman Nathan Small said if the city utilizes the opportunity to work together, “We could foster the shared understanding of both communities, which benefits our citizens for better opportunities and management of our shared resources.”
Small said further he hopes the FAA’s finding of discrimination would help facilitate a dialogue with the city of Pocatello on how to better recognize and remedy discrimination within their municipality, business dealings and within themselves.
The Pocatello Airport is located within the exterior boundaries of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and is on former tribal lands.