A dispute between opposing factions of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe is being blamed for Tuesday's layoff of 63 tobacco factory workers.

Workers at the factory near Turkey Ford learned Monday that they no longer have a job. On Tuesday, the doors were closed, according to Paul Spicer, chief of the tribe.

“We were told by Paul Spicer that the tribe's bank accounts are inaccessible and he had no choice but to close the factory,” tobacco factory employee Ginger Keyes said.

A memo was posted on the factory door indicating that “the tribe's attorneys have directed that no checks be issued until the letter from secretary Kay Crow-Ellison, attempting to seize control of all the tribe's bank accounts, is either withdrawn or settled in court.”

According to Ellison, there is no problem with the tribe's funds and its checks are being honored. She believes that Spicer dismissed the employees with the blame directed at her in an attempt to gain favor among tribal members.

“I am the elected secretary-treasurer of the tribe,” Ellison said. “My term of office does not expire until June of 2008. It is my duty, according to the constitution, to oversee and safeguard all of the tribe's monies, records and the tribal roll. My office is not in dispute nor is my authority to act on the tribe's behalf to fulfill my constitutional obligation. The bank has been notified that business should be ran as usual and checks should be issued for payments without my approval or signature as has been done in the past.”

The tribe's banking institution has authority to issue all payroll checks and release funds for expenditures of less than $5,000.

A tribe divided

Division within the tribe began shortly after a June 2 election in which Paul Spicer was re-elected as chief.

Since that day, the tribe's general council has contested the election, seated new election and grievance committees and called for a new election.

“Several protests were filed regarding the validity of the election itself,” Seneca-Cayuga Second Chief Katie Birdsong said. “Chief Spicer refused to abide by or acknowledge the new election committees decision to call a new election.”

Allegations of misconduct against Spicer were submitted to the newly appointed grievance committee, according to Sandra Kingston, the chairwoman of the “new” election committee. The complaints against Spicer were made in regard to his allegedly obtaining membership rolls without having obtained the right to do so through a resolution of the general council.

“The official tribal voting list was released and used by a select few of the candidates in violation of tribal law, giving an unfair advantage to those select few candidates,” Kingston read from a document provided as the election committee reviewed the allegations. “Subsequently, no evidence shows a general council approval by resolution as required has been given to any candidate to have use of the enrollment of voting rolls of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe. This unfair advantage could have definitely affected the outcome of the election.”

Despite the allegations, Spicer and the “old” election committee certified the election and commenced to conduct business as usual.

The dispute ended up in court this month when Leroy Howard and several other candidates on the June 2 ballot filed a restraining order against Spicer.

Howard and fellow candidates led a request of the court for an order to not certify the election results so that a new election can be called.

One June 12, Judge William Wantland issued a temporary restraining order staying the certification of the election. A second hearing was held June 20 whereby Judge Wantland issued an injunction on behalf of Leroy Howard.

Who is in charge?

The question many are asking now is “who is in charge?”

According to the committee representing Spicer's authority, he is the former and therefore acting chief of the tribe until further action is taken by the court.

According to the opposing committee, Spicer's authority has been suspended pending further order of the court.

The parties are scheduled to return to court on July 20 for a final decision on whether or not the June 2 election results will be certified.

Day to day operations

“The illegal actions of a few are creating great hardships for the entire tribe … especially the the 50-plus employees who are without jobs due to desperate actions,” Spicer said. “Without free access to its accounts, the tribe is unable to buy raw material for its tobacco factory.”

Spicer said many of the services provided by the tribe have also been temporarily halted until further action of the court.

“Our social services department, accounting department and all business offices in the Turkey Ford area have been closed,” Spicer said. “Essentially, the tribe cannot conduct any business whereby funds must be disbursed. That seriously affects our elder care programs and child welfare programs. I personally have given funds from my own pocket to tribal members in need of food and other necessities since the funds were frozen.”

Meanwhile, Spicer announced Tuesday that a restraining order was being prepared against Ellison.

“The tribe is seeking a restraining order barring an attempt by Ellison to seize control of the tribe's bank accounts,” Spicer said. “This is an unfortunate situation involving a few disgruntled members whose candidates recently lost the tribal election by a large margin and are now seeking to grab power by any means.”

The Seneca-Cayuga Tribe consists of approximately 4,400 members, about half of whom reside in Delaware and Ottawa counties.

The tribe's tobacco factory produces approximately 78,000 cigarettes per day which are distributed to the tribe's retail tobacco stores.