2017-01-19 / Front Page

Marina, casino behind recall

Recall petition disallowed
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

The fate of a new $29 million casino and a proposed $23 million, 216-slip marina on West Grand Traverse Bay in Peshawbestown appear to be at the heart of what members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians call a “major power struggle” involving the Tribal Council.

Tribal members who signed a petition to recall Tribal Councilor Mark Wilson were disappointed last week when the tribal Election Board rejected the petition on a technicality, according to interviews with some of those attending the Jan. 12 meeting.

Wilson said the recall is part of a discussion within the Tribe over the future of the development, which would change the look of shoreline properties in Peshawbestown.

“But the struggle that’s going on right now is not really all about Mark Wilson,” Wilson said. “It’s really about a broader power struggle within the tribe and on the Tribal Council over economic development.”

Former Tribal Council members Brian Napont and Sandra Witherspoon and former Tribal Chairman Alvin Pedwaydon were among those behind the recall petition.

Napont said this week he expects to file a petition of impropriety against the Election Board in Tribal Court.

“I’m not convinced we’ll have any luck in Tribal Court,” Napont said. “So, the next step would be the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. – but I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”

Wilson is the only member of the Tribal Council who has been a member for more than one year, and therefore eligible for recall. In last year’s election, tribal members ousted five incumbent members of the Tribal Council.

Frank Wilson, Mark Wilson’s distant cousin, was forced to step down from the Tribal Council last year due to health issues, as Pedwaydon was the year before.

Tribal voters placed Thurlow “Sam” McClellan in the Tribal Chairman’s seat in May of 2016, while Frank Wilson’s seat was filled through an appointment by other Tribal Council members in September.

Customarily, Napont said, the Tribal Council would have appointed the next-highest vote getter in the previous election – and that would have been him. Instead, however, the Tribal Council appointed former Tribal Councilor Tom Shomin to fill Frank Wilson’s vacant seat.

Tribal elder Bonnie Inman, who personally helped circulate the recall petition targeting Mark Wilson, said there is no law requiring the Tribal Council to appoint the next-highest vote-getter from the previous election in case of a vacancy, but that has been the customary practice in previous years.

“So, this power struggle is not only about this huge casino and marina project that some members of the Tribal Council want to push forward,” Inman said. “It’s also about filling a vacancy on the Tribal Council with someone who supports the project – and doing it in a way that ignores what happened in the last election.”

The subject of the failed recall attempt, Tribal Councilor Mark Wilson, expressed satisfaction that the Election Board determined last week that language on the recall petition was not the authorized language.

Wilson explained that Tribal Chairman McClellan along with Tribal Councilors Kim Vargo and Jane Rohl are opposed to building a new casino and a recreational marina in Peshawbestown. Wilson and fellow Tribal Councilors David Arroyo and Percy Bird, are in favor of the project. The return of Tom Shomin to the Tribal Council, replacing Frank Wilson, changed the balance on the seven-member council in favor of the project.

Napont said he opposes the project because it does not make economic sense to him and because the new marina would degrade fish spawning habitat on West Grand Traverse Bay. He believes it could negate historic treaties allowing tribal commercial fishing.

Tribal elder Inman agrees.

“The Leelanau Sands Casino hasn’t been making any money since we expanded the Turtle Creek Casino (in Grand Traverse County’s Whitewater Township), Inman said. “Now, they want to sink millions into building a new casino and this huge marina on the bay in Peshawbestown – and I think the numbers just don’t add up.”

Mark Wilson, on the other hand, says the economic numbers “add up” for him, and he would like to see the tribe continue to develop economically.

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