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Thunder Valley owner’s tribal council recall bid denied

Election Dec. 11 pits breakaway group candidates against incumbents
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A bid to recall all five elected members of the United Auburn Indian Community tribal council has been rejected. But members of a breakaway group supported by former tribal chairwoman Jessica Tavares that launched the recall effort are questioning the rejection of a petition signed. They say that with the threshold for number of signatures on the petition met, the recall should go forward. The United Auburn Indian Community, which owns Thunder Valley Casino, was thrust into a war of words and an internal power struggle last Monday when the splinter group – which also includes former tribal council member Dolly Suehead – submitted the petition to the tribal council. To force a recall election, a petition requires signatures from 40 percent of the tribe’s membership. With 186 eligible voting members among the United Auburn Indian Community’s 280 total membership, the group thought the threshold had been met. But the tribe’s election committee rejected the petition. Tavares said the decision not to accept the petition was based on a new requirement adopted late last year requiring notarized signatures that had never been mailed to tribal members. “Worse, members who asked for copies of any new ordinances or resolutions were told there were none or given the previous election ordinance, which – consistent with the tribe’s constitution, requires only signatures,” Tavares said. But Doug Elmets, spokesman for United Auburn Indian Community tribal council, said that the election committee is independent of the tribal council and that the requirement for notarized signatures was made part of the election ordinance several years ago. The recall process also requires signatures to be accompanied with the dates they are signed but many had no dates on them, he said. “Tribal members who advanced this recall petition are intentionally and recklessly disregarding the truth and are exposing the tribe to public embarrassment,” Elmets said. Gaming analysts have ranked Thunder Valley as high as No. 3 in the nation in terms of profits. The breakaway group issued a statement Friday blasting the tribal council as “in the pocket of an attorney who runs our tribal government like the dictator of a banana republic.” “The denial of this election is unfortunately par for the course by a tribal council that is afraid to give an undeniably large number of its members a right to vote them out of office,” Tavares said. U.S. Supreme Court decisions have ruled in favor of elected election commissions like the local ones making final decisions on the veracity of recall petitions, Elmets said. Elmets said that tribal attorney Howard Dickstein is being unfairly singled out when the pro-recall group states the lawyer has “taken $25 million from the tribe.” Dickstein has served as attorney for the tribe for 16 years. The $25 million figure as an estimate of the amount of compensation the attorney received from that time period “is horribly inflated” by the group, Elmets said. Dickstein’s Sacramento law firm employs three attorneys who spend 70 percent of their time on legal matters related to the United Auburn Indian Community, he said. “That’s been consistent for 16 years,” Elmets said. “Eight of those years were when there was no gaming and no guarantee of a single cent from gaming. There were a couple of years early on when he received no compensation at all.” Tribal election looming The recall wrangle sets the stage for a tribal election Dec. 11, with Tavares challenging incumbent Kim Rey Dubac for the vice-chairwoman’s post and Suehead taking on Brenda Conway for treasurer. Both terms are for two years. Watching with interest from the sidelines is Lori Potter, a member of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in Connecticut who blogs weekly at loripotter.com. “We have struggled with very similar problems over the last decade,” Potter said. “They are not alone and I have empathy for them.” Potter said she wishes the tribe well in a process of obtaining a transparent, equitable government, as well as unity and peace it the United Auburn Indian Community. “There are better days ahead and they will be amazed at what has been learned over time,” Potter said.