Wasted funds and efforts

By Nancy Ayala / Guest CommentaryMay 15, 2013 

As the tribal chairwoman of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, I feel the need to set the record straight about the turmoil within our tribe.

Along with the other three members of our tribal council quorum, I have remained mostly silent during nearly two years of unrest -- disputed elections, council suspensions, legal actions and financial struggles. Our silence has been intentional: We have kept busy ensuring the stability of the tribe's casino and resort, for one, and we have always believed that this was an internal matter, a tribal conflict best settled outside the glare of the media.

Unfortunately, in a headline culture, lies shouted loud and shouted often ultimately get attention. I fear that's what's happened with our tribe.

In late February 2013, three members of our council -- Reggie Lewis, Chance Alberta and Carl "Buzz" Bushman -- fled the Rancheria and set up an unconstitutional "shadow" council in three office suites in a luxury Fresno office complex. Using liquidated tribal funds, the rogue council is paying an estimated nearly $20,000 per month in rent for their office space. This is money that should be used to help our tribe and its members.

The rogue council members and their lawyers have also sent numerous letters to casino vendors, banks, casino employees and the National Indian Gaming Commission, trying mightily to disrupt casino business, despite the fact that the Chukchansi people rely on that business for much-needed services and per-capita payments. While the rogue tribal council seems intent on sabotaging our people's economic engine from afar, the members of the quorum council -- Tracey Brechbuehl, Dr. Karen Wynn, Charles Sargosa and I -- go to work every day in a cramped office a few hundred feet from our lifeline business, making sure that more than 1,000 jobs stay in place and that the casino and resort remain in a business-as-usual mode.

Nor has the rogue council stopped there. Despite the Chukchansi Constitution's clear mandate that only a quorum of council members can make government decisions, this threesome has declared themselves in charge, holding sham council meetings 40 miles off the rancheria in Fresno, issuing sham council suspensions and appointing a sham fourth council member to grant themselves a sham quorum. The only thing real about these edicts is the confusion it has created in our community, in the media and with our business partners.

The rogue council threesome's latest ploy to grab headlines came in late April. Again using liquidated tribal funds, the minority hired an allegedly "independent" consultant to conduct a pair of referenda meant to reshuffle the tribal council in their favor. This balloting was tainted in three ways: One, it failed to follow the Chukchansi Constitution. Two, the allegedly "independent" group, Indian Dispute Resolution Services, has for years employed a relative of Reggie Lewis' whom we believe worked on the referenda. And three, the voters in this bogus election were paid for their votes.

Specifically, the council minority offered voters a one-time payment of hundreds of dollars in return for signing the referenda in question. The ballots even came accompanied by IRS forms, to ensure easy payment. Perhaps the only thing surprising about the results of such a "pay for votes" election is that the council minority claims to have "won" with a mere 53% of the vote, despite such payments.

Let me be clear about the state of the Chukchansi tribe today. The council quorum of four works daily from the rancheria, doing the business of our people. Our casino remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, despite the wasted funds and wasted efforts of three rogue council members who believe they can run our tribal government from a glass office building in Fresno.

These three in their glass house continue to throw stones. Regardless, our quorum is determined to restore stability and dignity to the Chukchansi people. Every single member of our tribe deserves nothing less.

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