The chief of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe is asking members to ignore a planned re-convening of the tribe's general council set for 2 p.m. Sunday, advising that the meeting is not valid and defies a court order issued a week ago by the tribe's district judge.
More than 200 tribal members disagree and, according to a taped video recording of a Nov. 10 special meeting of the tribe's general council, stood to their feet and used Robert's Rules of Order to take control of tribal business, censure the chief, empower the second chief and exercise their constitutional power as the tribe's “supreme governing body.”
When Spicer emerged from Saturday's meeting he said it was a repeat of the June council meeting when Second Chief Katie Birdsong picked up the gavel and continued a meeting that had been officially adjourned. Birdsong then, too, presided as the general council voted to remove the tribe's grievance committee, seat a new committee and address grievances filed against Spicer. Her actions were later deemed futile as the Court of Indian Offenses ruled that the meeting was properly adjourned before Birdsong picked up the gavel, rendering all the subsequent actions invalid.
“This will end up back in court,” Spicer said. “It is the same thing all over again.”
Others say Saturday's meeting was similar in design, but that the general council, this time around, came prepared with a better understanding of Robert's Rules of Order and the knowledge that the group can collectively appeal a ruling of the chairman (Spicer) when it appears that he is obstructing the will of the assembly.
“Chief Spicer, in the past, has used Robert's Rules of Order as a shield against his tribal members at meetings and obstructed their ability to present business that he doesn't approve, such as his removal,” said Scott Edwards, attorney for Seneca-Cayuga secretary/treasurer Kay Crow-Ellison. “Thanks to Ray Rogers, a tribal elder, tribal members have learned how to use the rules to take control of a meeting in an orderly manner and conduct the essential business of the tribe when the chief refuses to do his duty.”
Attorneys for the tribe, however, say that last Saturday's stand was illegal and held in defiance of a Nov. 9 court order issued by Seneca-Cayuga District Court Judge Karl Jones.
Jones' order stated that Saturday's meeting was limited to the discussion of a single agenda item - to discuss the the authority and funding of the tribe's claims committee.
“The call for a special general council (held Nov. 10) did not provide that other business may be presented,” Jones wrote in his order. “Therefore, under Article III, Section 3, of the tribe's by-laws, no other business can be transacted except for the object stated in the call. The decision to include or exclude an opportunity to present ‘other business' in a call for special general council is a matter for the sole discretion of the chief.”
The opposition argues that the tribe's constitution provides Ellison with the responsibility of setting the order of business for the general council meeting as directed by the chief or the business committee or when 30 or more tribal members petition for an agenda.
“Other business” taken up on Saturday led to several actions by the general council including the removal of the grievance committee, seating of a new grievance committee, dismissing three law firms employed by the tribe, giving exclusive authority regarding the gaming charter to the general council, voting to pay attorney fees owed to Dale Warner, Douglas Pewitt, John Ghostbear, Pamela Ireland, William Norman and Scott Edwards, dismissing lawsuits brought by the business committee against tribal members, elected officials and their attorneys, restoring the claims committee, restoring the authority of Birdsong and Ellison, rescinding 33 business committee resolutions considered to be “detrimental” to the business of the tribe and in violation of the constitution, and establishing a quarterly meeting schedule for the general council.
For her role in what is described as an “intentional and wanton defiance” of Jones' order and the issuance of correspondence relating to general council action taken last week, Spicer is proposing Ellison's suspension and suggests she be fined $10,000 as a consequence for her actions.
In the meantime, Ellison and her fellow tribal leaders are preparing for Sunday's reconvening of the general council and a scheduled meeting of the grievance committee to hear grievances served on Spicer.
Spicer said in a Nov. 15 advertisement in the News-Record that the hearing is not valid.
“For your own safety, you should not attempt to attend this meeting,” Spicer wrote to tribal members.
“This appears to be a threat by Chief Spicer directed toward people who plan to attend the Nov. 18, 2007, meeting to oust him,” Edwards said. “Second Chief Birdsong has made arrangements for the Bureau of Indian Affairs law enforcement to be present to prevent Chief Spicer or his newly formed security team from interfering with or causing harm to tribal members at the meeting.”