2018-05-10 / Front Page

Election may cast cloud over GTB project

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

FRANKENBERGER FRANKENBERGER Members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians on Tuesday filled three Tribal Council seats — and cast some doubt on support for a proposed new casino and marina complex.

Results of this week’s General Election help provide some insight into the fate of a proposed $55 million hotel, casino and marina project on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront in Peshawbestown.

The only incumbent re-elected in this week’s race, Mark Wilson, has previously voted in support of the project as part of a 4-3 split on the Tribal Council.

Another supporter of the project, Tribal Councilor Thomas P. Shomin, lost his re-election bid on Tuesday.

Yet another Tribal Councilor who supported the project, Percy Bird, Jr., lost his seat in a Primary Election the tribe held April 3 to narrow down a field of 17 tribal members running for the three seats. Six names were on Tuesday’s ballot.

NAPONT NAPONT Brian Napont, a former Tribal Councilor who was re-elected to office this week after his first term ended in 2012, last year led an unsuccessful recall effort against Wilson in part over Wilson’s support for the new casino project. Now, the political opponents will serve together on the same Tribal Council.

But the top vote-getter in this week’s election is political newcomer Tina Frankenberger whose position on the proposed new hotel/casino/marina project in Leelanau County was not articulated in her campaign literature or other public pronouncements.

Although Frankenberger’s position on the casino/hotel/marina project has not yet been made clear, it appears that the 4-3 balance in favor of the project on the current Tribal Council may flip to a majority opposed after the new Tribal Council is seated.

A former fisheries biologist with the tribe’s Natural Resources Department, Frankenberger campaigned for office on a platform of “food sovereignty” for the tribe and a pledge to protect tribal fishing rights in renegotiating a federal fishing treaty set to expire in 2020.

WILSON WILSON Frankenberger did not respond to an email request for comment following her election victory Tuesday. Similarly, Wilson did not respond to requests for comment from an Enterprise reporter via phone, email or on Facebook Messenger.

Napont said that although he is being reelected six years after his first term ended, he is acutely aware of what is required for the position and the challenges that face him.

“I am honored and excited to represent the sentiment of the majority of tribal members,” Napont said. “My intent is to have compassion and empathy, and to be fair.”

Assuming no election challenges are filed by Tuesday, a Tribal Election Board of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians will certify results of the election on May 16. Oaths of office for Wilson, Frankenberger and Napont would then be administered on May 17 during a ceremony in the Leelanau Sands Showroom in Peshawbestown.

The chairman of the Tribal Election Board, Shawn Koon-Nolff, had high praise for fellow Election Board members and election workers who manned polling places in Peshawbestown and in tribal offices in Grand Traverse, Benzie and Charlevoix counties.

“Everything went without a hitch and I’m proud of how hard our Election Board worked,” Koon-Nolff said.

“Of course, we’re waiting to hear if any election challenges are filed in the days ahead and are ready to take the next steps as required,” he added.

Only 47-percent of the 1,015 tribal members who were registered to vote in the May 8 General Election cast ballots.

Frankenberger won support from more than 20-percent of the voters, with 261 votes. Napont won more than 18-percent support from 228 voters. And Wilson won over 17-percent support from 215 voters.

Former tribal manager Sonya Lynn Zotigh lost with 16 percent support, from 201 voters. Incumbent Tribal Councilor Shomin lost his reelection bid with over 15-percent support, a total of 199 votes. Scott Lewis came in sixth with over 12-percent support from 156 voters.

As part of the April 3 Primary Election process, incumbent Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan narrowly survived a recall attempt. McClellan has been a staunch opponent of the new casino/hotel/marina project in Peshawbestown.

McClellan’s seat and those of incumbent Tribal Councilors Kimberly Vargo, Jane Rohl and David Arroyo will be up for challenge in the 2020 election cycle. Vargo and Rohl previously voted against the project while Arroyo has supported it.

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