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Thunder Valley Casino owners' Indian tribal council faces recall

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A fissure over leadership of United Auburn Indian Community threatens to overturn the Thunder Valley Casino owner’s tribal council. A breakaway group supported by former tribal chairwoman Jessica Tavares has taken the initial step of collecting enough signatures to force a vote to recall all five members of the tribal council. Tavares and Dolly Suehead, another former tribal council member, said in a statement released Monday that the council no longer is looking after the interests of the United Auburn Indian Community’s members. Tavares said the council’s ouster is being supported by a majority of the tribe. Seventy-five of the United Auburn Indian Community’s 186 eligible voters signed a petition calling for the recall election, she said. The 40 percent threshold for signatures would force a recall vote that, if successful, would be followed by a new vote for tribal council – absent the recalled members. The splinter group is claiming questionable financial practices by the council, retaliation by the council against members who criticize them, election dishonesty and collusion with a tribal lawyer “who unjustly enriches himself and his hand-picked consultants and tribal employees.” But a spokesman for the tribal council said that the dispute was rooted over dissatisfaction with the elected panel’s decision to pledge $1 million as a Sacramento Kings sponsor – not the other issues mentioned. Doug Elmets, a Sacramento public relations representative, said the $1 million was a pledge, no money has changed hands, and may not as the NBA season remains in doubt. Proponents of a recall have made several allegations in their petition against tribal leaders. They include the $1 million pledge plus: - Denial of per capita income distribution to a tribal member for speaking out against tribal council votes - Denying financial support to the grades 7 to 12 tribal school, and drug and rehab services from members, while approving the $1 million pledge - Keeping tribal members from seeing an audit and the tribe’s financial records - Making “excessive payments” to the tribe’s attorney Howard Dickstein of Sacramento, including giving him a financial interest in Thunder Valley revenue “an arrangement that has guaranteed him in excess of $25 million.” - Refusing to allow independent observers of tribal elections Elmets declined to comment on specific allegations but would say that the tribal school, located in Auburn, remains “open and thriving” and the $1 million hasn’t changed hands. “It’s an internal tribal dispute,” Elmets said. “This is not uncommon in the Indian community.” Suehead, a council member from 1996 to 2009, said the United Auburn Indian Community has been “bamboozled by an attorney more interested in filling his garage with Ferraris than serving the interest of our tribe, and the greed of a tribal council that rubber stamps his decisions.” “It is time for this outrageous ripoff of our tribe to end and those who committed it to be removed from the council,” Suehead said. Dickstein could not be reached for comment Monday. He has served as the tribal attorney since before the federal government restored the United Auburn Indian Community’s tribal status in 1994. Tavares said she favors ousting the current council and firing Dickstein “and his cronies who have been sucking the tribe dry.” Current council members are chairman David Keyser, vice-chairwoman Kim Dubach, tribal secretary Gene Whitehouse, tribal treasurer Brenda Conway and elected Councilman Calvin Moman. The United Auburn Indian Community’s website states Keyser and Moman were elected in June 2010, Whitehouse has been tribal secretary since June 2010, and Conway and Dubach were sworn in Jan 2010. Suehead is a candidate in the United Auburn Indian Community’s regular election Dec. 11, when three seats will be open. Elmets said the decision on the $1 million Kings partnership was made by “duly elected members of the tribal council.” “They agreed to sponsor the Kings in hopes of not only keeping them in Sacramento as a common asset but as an outstanding advertising opportunity for Thunder Valley Casino,” Elmets said. “And all of this may be moot because the NBA and its players are in such a dispute that it’s whittling away the season.” But Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento political consultant working with the breakaway group, said the Kings issue “is a small slice of the pie.” “The bottom line is transparency,” Maviglio said. “Tribal members want to be consulted.