Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tribes In The Media: Mashantucket Tribal Judge Rejects Petition

An article from The Day newspaper, Tribal Jude Rejects Budget Challenge, is republished below as part of the ongoing Tribes In The Media series:

Tribal judge rejects budget challenge
Mashantucket petition seeking referendum not valid
By Heather Allen
The Day Newspaper
July 11, 2008

Mashantucket Tribal Court Judge Thomas J. Londregan ruled this week that, under the tribe's constitution, a petition circulated by tribal members seeking input in the government's budgeting process through the ability to send the spending plan to a referendum was not valid.

The petition, which was signed by 800 to 900 members of the tribe, was filed with tribal council in March and asked that members have a say in how to trim $40 million from the tribal government's budget. The petition asked that tribal members do so through a referendum.

The petitioners were particularly concerned when they learned that 170 tribal-government employees would be offered buyouts and laid off as a result of budget cuts.

Londregan, in the 14-page decision issued Wednesday afternoon, ruled that the petition is “not the proper subject matter for a referendum” under the tribe's constitution.

The petition's sponsors declined to comment on Londregan's decision.

The main sticking point was a fundamental problem with the petition, which outlined six things that the petitioners hoped to achieve.

The tribe argued a referendum petition must be in a form that can be reasonably capable of being understood on a ballot, according to Londregan's decision. The tribe also argued that because the petition combined more than two forms of relief, it is impossible to present a question calling for a single “yes or no” answer on a ballot.

”This case,” Londregan wrote in his decision, “demonstrates the strained relationship that develops between the power of the people to legislate directly through the process of referendum and the mandate requiring elected officials to discharge their duties in accordance with law.”

And while Londregan's ruling came down to the mechanics of the petition, he hinted that if tribal members are dissatisfied with the tribal council they should keep that in mind in future tribal elections.

”It is not the province of this court to determine what information, reports, or participation, if any, the Petitioners should have in the formulation of the budget,” Londregan wrote in his decision. “The electorate's satisfaction with the Tribal Council in matters such as disclosure of reports and information and listening to the Tribal voters is best left to the ballot box and not the courtroom.”

Since the tribe has already laid off nearly 200 government employees and another 100 or so at Foxwoods Resort Casino, which it owns and operates, it remains unclear what recourse tribal members may have.

While she did not sign the petition, Tribal Elder Barbara Poirier attended both hearings in tribal court relating to the case and reviewed a copy of Londregan's decision.

Poirier said this case should serve as a lesson on how to use the right of referendum.

”We must respect the decision of the tribal court and use this as an opportunity to learn and grow and become more unified,” she said.