2018-06-07 / Local News

Dispute settled, Tribal Council seated

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


TRIBAL COUNCIL members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians pose for a picture in their chambers in Peshawbestown last week. They are, from left, Kimberly Vargo, Brian Napont, Tina Frankenberger, Thurlow “Sam” McClellan, Jane Rohl, Mark Wilson, and David Arroyo. (Photo courtesy of GTB Communications Dept.) TRIBAL COUNCIL members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians pose for a picture in their chambers in Peshawbestown last week. They are, from left, Kimberly Vargo, Brian Napont, Tina Frankenberger, Thurlow “Sam” McClellan, Jane Rohl, Mark Wilson, and David Arroyo. (Photo courtesy of GTB Communications Dept.) Resolution of an election dispute last week allowed three members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Tribal Council to be sworn in to office just two weeks later than planned.

The dispute was resolved by the tribal Election Board the evening of May 30 with the swearing-in occurring last Thursday, May 31. Originally, the swearing-in was to have occurred May 17.

The top vote-getter in the tribe’s six-way General Election on May 8 was political newcomer Tina Anne Frankenberger who garnered more than 20 percent of the vote.

She was sworn in as a Tribal Councilor, along with Brian S. Napont who returned to the Tribal Council after a six-year absence with 18 percent of the vote.

Mark Wilson, who also took the oath of office last week, was re-elected to a second four-year term on the council with 17 percent of the vote.

But the election dispute didn’t have anything to do with the three candidates or even with the May 8 General Election.

According to tribal sources, the election dispute stemmed from pronouncements made by Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan prior to an April 3 Primary Election designed to narrow down a field of 17 candidates to the six candidates who were on the ballot in the May 8 election.

A candidate in the April 3 Primary, Gary John, alleged that letters McClellan wrote prior to the election were unfair to John and interfered with the election. McClellan at the time was facing a recall election which he survived.

The filing of John’s election dispute required the tribe’s Election Board to delay certifying results of the May 8 General Election until his dispute could be heard.

Following a hearing lasting more than an hour on the evening of May 30, the Election Board voted unanimously in determining that the dispute was not valid and to certify results of the May 8 election.

A hastily-arranged swearing-in ceremony was conducted the following day in the Tribal Council chambers in Peshawbestown, accompanied by traditional drumming and singing. Normally, a more elaborate swearing in ceremony is conducted at the Leelanau Sands Showroom involving a veterans color guard, prayers and speeches.

Contacted by the Enterprise this week, newly-re-elected Tribal Councilor Wilson said he felt very honored that his fellow tribal members were giving him another four years on the council.

“I had a steep learning curve during my first term, but this time my feet are going to hit the ground running,” Wilson said.

One of the biggest issues facing the newly-seated Tribal Council will be a decision on whether to proceed with an estimated $55 million project to construct a new hotel, casino and marina on the West Grand Traverse Bay waterfront in Peshawbestown.

The previous Tribal Council voted 4-3 in favor of the project, and the recent election cycle was seen as a referendum on the project. However, it’s not clear how the new Tribal Council will vote.

“I voted for the project before -- and I still support the Master Plan we adopted for Peshawbestown back in 2011 that tribal membership has been supporting for years,” Wilson said.

“The new Tribal Council has yet to sit down and discuss our goals and objectives for the next two years,” Wilson said, “so it’s not clear to me how a vote on this issue would turn out at this point.”

Frankenberger and Napont did not immediately reply to messages requesting their comments this week.

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