Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mashantucket Pequot's New Tribal Council Chairman

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The following installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in The Day newspaper on the new chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation.

Rodney Butler, 32, has business background; will lead financially troubled tribe
By Brian Hallenbeck
The Day
November 3, 2009

Mashantucket - Rodney A. Butler, treasurer of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, was elected chairman Sunday after winning a third three-year term on the council, the tribe announced in a statement.

Steven Thomas and Crystal Whipple also won seats on the seven-member council in balloting among tribal members. Charlene Jones, the council's secretary, lost her bid for a fourth term.

The council governs the tribe and oversees its gaming enterprise, which includes Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods. The Mashantuckets, dealing with the recession's crippling effect on casino revenues, are seeking to restructure a debt load of more than $2 billion.

Butler's term as chairman will begin Jan. 1, with the new council's inauguration expected to take place Jan. 4, the first business day of 2010. The chairmanship is currently vacant, the result of the council's recent expulsion of former Chairman Michael Thomas, whom the council condemned in August for pledging to put funding for tribal government and "incentive" payments to tribal members ahead of the tribe's financial obligations.

The 35-year-old Steven Thomas is Michael Thomas' younger brother.

After Butler, Steven Thomas and Whipple emerged as the top three vote-getters among 18 candidates, a second round of voting was held to select a chairman. Butler, Whipple and Marjorie Colebut-Jackson, one of four councilors not up for election, were nominated from the floor.

Butler outpolled Whipple by a fairly small margin to win the chairman's post, according to a source who asked not to be named. Observers have described the reserved Butler as bright and focused rather than charismatic, which was Michael Thomas' stock in trade. The two are said to have favored markedly different approaches to what Thomas called the "dire financial times" facing the tribe.

Butler lives outside the tribe's reservation in North Stonington.

"I am honored and deeply humbled that my family has chosen me to serve as the Chairman of the Tribal Council," Butler said in the tribal statement. "We have a proud and rich history and the membership has elected strong representatives to help drive the Tribe's continued success. Working with the Tribal Council, I will look to protect and advance the sovereign rights of our Tribal Nation and strengthen and preserve the cultural, social and economic foundation that will support subsequent generations of Mashantucket Pequots.

"These are challenging times on a number of fronts," Butler continued, "but throughout history, our Nation has encountered many challenges and has always emerged on the other side brighter, stronger and more independent than before."

Butler, 32, was an outstanding football player at Montville High School and went on to letter in the sport at the University of Connecticut, where he studied finance. Before beginning his first term on the council in 2004, he worked as a financial analyst at Foxwoods and later served as chairman of the tribe's business advisory board. He could not be reached for further comment.

Steven Thomas, who spoke briefly to a reporter Sunday evening, said he was working in the table games department at Foxwoods and had previously worked in the tribe's natural resources department.

"The tribe has spoken," the tribe's statement quoted him as saying.

Whipple, who has worked in tribal government, could not be reached to comment.

"I feel a tremendous amount of joy that the membership has chosen me as one of their leaders during such a challenging time for our Nation," she was quoted as saying. "... It's time for change and I think the people have demonstrated that today."

While the tribe released no vote totals or other details of the balloting, which took place at the tribe's community center, sources said turnout was heavy. About 450 tribal members over the age of 18 were eligible.