Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mashantucket Tribal Council Seeks To Get Rid Of Chairman

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in The Day newspaper about the the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council's attempt to get rid of its Tribal Council Chairman as a result of his communication with Tribal members.

Tribal Council Moves To Oust Thomas
Leaders charge chairman acted unilaterally on financial crisis; he calls for referendum
By Brian Hallenbeck
The Day
September 1, 2009

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council has placed Chairman Michael Thomas on administrative leave“pending the outcome of an internal review.”

Mashantucket Pequot tribal councilors relieved Chairman Michael Thomas of his duties Monday, charging that he “betrayed our trust” by issuing a letter to tribal members describing his plan to deal with the tribe's dire financial circumstances.

The councilors sent an e-mail to Thomas in which they called for his resignation, closed his office and placed him on administrative leave, according to a tribal official who asked not to be named. The e-mail was sent by six members of the seven-member council. Thomas is the seventh member.

If Thomas fails to step down by Sept. 10, the council could, by a three-fifths vote, remove him from the council and conduct a special election within 30 days to fill the vacancy, the official said, citing processes spelled out in the tribe's constitution and by-laws.

The Mashantuckets own Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

The tribe, in a statement it first released to the financial markets Monday, said the council had placed Thomas on administrative leave “pending the outcome of an internal review.” The tribe said it does not discuss personnel matters “and does not intend to comment further” about Thomas.

The Day reported last week that a senior tribal adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, had indicated the tribe was in danger of defaulting on loan terms this week and that it was seeking to restructure $2.3 billion in debt.

In response to a question Monday from The Day, the tribe said, “We remain in compliance with our covenants and are current with regard to our debt obligations.”

In his letter to tribal members, Thomas pledged to protect tribal government and distributions to members from cutbacks.

The senior adviser said Monday night that the attempt to remove Thomas from the council was “wholly without merit” and the “epitome of irresponsibility.” He said Thomas would submit petitions seeking to have his “expulsion” from the council put to a referendum vote of the tribe's electors and to have a special election to recall the six other councilors: Richard E. Sebastian, Charlene Jones, Rodney Butler, Maureen Sebastian, Marjorie Colebut-Jackson and James Jackson.

Thomas also intends to call a special meeting of the council and tribal members Sept. 8 to present his case.

”Any Tribal Council action to remove a Councilor from office is illegal unless that Tribal Councilor is afforded 'due notice and opportunity to be heard.' Neither has been given to your Tribal Council Chairman at this time,” Thomas writes in a meeting notice, a copy of which was obtained by The Day.

”This is as much a constitutional crisis as it is a financial crisis,” the senior adviser said.

Monday's turn of events seemingly overshadowed the tribe's financial quagmire, which also was discussed at an afternoon meeting of the tribal membership in the gymnasium of the tribe's community center. The session, which Thomas did not attend, drew about 200 people, according to a source.

Sebastian, the tribal vice chairman, presided at the meeting. Attempts to reach him and other councilors Monday night were unsuccessful.

According to the tribal official, the tribe is at risk of defaulting on or before Oct. 1.

The letter from the six councilors to Thomas faults the chairman for seeking to deal with the financial crisis unilaterally.

”The Tribal council as a whole had been working diligently to deal with the impact of the general downturn in the economy and more specifically our declining gaming revenues,” the letter reads. “The Council as a whole, including you, had initiated a strategy which was designed to address this issue and most importantly designed to protect and preserve our Tribal community.”

The six councilors, in their letter, said, “We are appalled by the letter you sent to Tribal Membership on Wednesday, August, 19, 2009,” in which Thomas asserted, “Foxwoods is here to support our people, not Wall Street.”