2018-03-22 / Front Page

Tribal recall election set

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

The head of the biggest government organization in Leelanau County controlling the county’s most lucrative business and largest single employer will be the subject of a recall election next month.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the Election Board of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians decided that a recall election for Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan will be held April 3.

That’s the date of the tribe’s regularly scheduled Primary Election when about 1,000 registered tribal voters will narrow down a field of dozens of candidates running for three seats on the Tribal Council. The top six will then compete for the three seats in a May 8 Regular Election.

When they head to the polls on April 3, however, tribal voters will be offered a second ballot asking whether they want to recall their Tribal Chairman. The chairman’s four-year term on the Tribal Council does not expire until 2020 when three more seats on the seven-member council will also expire.

A recall petition that the Election Board certified earlier this month alleges that McClellan and an assistant misused credit cards during a trip to Washington, D.C. in January 2017 when tribal leaders from throughout the U.S. were invited to meet with federal government officials.

Tribal member Charles “Jim” Petoskey was one of those behind the recall petition. He acknowledged that the chairman “inundated our monthly newsletters (The GTB News) with calls for accountability and transparency for various departments of our tribe” but asserted that McClellan failed to provide accountability for his own actions.

However, McClellan told an Enterprise reporter this week that he believes the real reason for the recall stemmed from his frequent writings in the GTB News. In those personal opinion columns, McClellan openly questioned decisions made by the rest of the Tribal Council over the tribe’s economic development efforts. Most recently, McClellan has opposed plans to build a new $50 million hotel and casino in Peshawbestown and has asserted that financial estimates indicate the project will fail.

“The petitioners are making a big deal out of about $500 they said was put on a credit card improperly last year, but the Leelanau Sands Casino lost about $1.8 million last year alone,” McClellan said.

McClellan is also alleging that the recall process is violating his “due process” rights under the U.S. Constitution.

McClellan has filed a motion in the Tribal Court to stay the recall election, but no hearing has yet been scheduled on that motion, according to Wilson Brott, an attorney who represents the tribal Election Board. Earlier this month, McClellan challenged the recall petition itself, but the Election Board ruled against that effort on March 12.At the March 12 Election Board meeting, members determined that the recall petition had 243 valid signatures, more than enough to trigger a recall election. Tribal law requires that once enough signatures are verified, a recall election is to occur within 30 days. The Election Board decided on the April 3 date at its meeting this week.

Election Board attorney Brott explained that ballots for both the primary and recall elections will be counted the evening of April 3, but the Primary Election results will not be official until certified by the Election Board on April 11. The Tribal Code concerning recall elections, however, requires that the Election Board certify results on a recall election on the same date as the election.

Positions on the Tribal Council, including that of the Tribal Chairman, are considered fulltime positions. The annual base salary for a member of the Tribal Council begins at around $60,000 per year.

The Tribal Council oversees an annual budget estimated at around $40 million, several times larger than the $13 million annual budget administered by the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners. The Tribal Council also oversees the tribe’s Economic Development Corporation which, through the Leelanau Sands Casino and other enterprises, is the largest single employer in Leelanau County.

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