Two Seneca-Cayuga officials and a handful of tribal members were denied entry to a Tuesday meeting of the tribe's business committee, according to witness accounts and video recordings.
On the order of Chief Paul Spicer, security personnel locked the the doors of the tribal headquarters when the meeting room neared its occupancy limit, leaving second chief Katie Birdsong and secretary/treasurer Kay Ellison - both members of the business committee - standing outside.
Spicer confirmed Friday that he locked the doors because he had to limit attendance for fire code reasons once the meeting room reached its occupancy limit.
Initially, Spicer said that the state fire marshal ordered the occupancy limit, but later indicated that the ruling came from Miami fire officials.
Miami Fire Chief Kevin Trease confirmed that the department was asked to give a ruling on the occupancy of the meeting room one day prior to the Tuesday meeting.
Trease said the room will safely hold 33 people.
The occupancy limit was issued out of courtesy, according to Trease, because the city has no jurisdiction on tribal property.
According to witnesses, Spicer locked the doors when the room filled to 27.
“Katie Birdsong and Kay Ellison could have entered at any time,” Spicer said. “They refused to come in.”
The two tribal officials do not agree with Spicer's retelling of Tuesday's events.
Birdsong said she was physically blocked from entering the building just prior to the doors being locked - despite the fact that the chief had indicated that there was room for three more occupants.
The second chief said she questioned Spicer on his actions, noting that various meetings had taken place in the room and crowds had been allowed to spill into the hallway on previous occasions.
Birdsong indicated that Spicer was adamant that the doors would be closed and that no one would be allowed to stand in the hall.
“I tried to push my way in,” Birdsong said. “But, the security guard at the door stepped in front of me. I tried to push through and I just bounced off of him.”
Ellison said she was extended an invitation to come inside, however, she declined the offer unless the doors were opened to all the tribal members who were waiting outside. She asked Spicer to bring the meeting outside so that everyone could attend.
“He refused,” Birdsong said.
Spicer said security personnel were placed at the doors with keys in hand to provide access if and when Ellison and Birdsong decided to come in. However, video of the event shows both tribal officials rapping on the glass, rattling the doors and peering into a near-empty hallway. Security guards at the far end of the hall, standing near the entrance of the meeting room, did not acknowledge attempts to garner their attention.
Spicer said he accommodated the tribal members who were prohibited from entering the meeting room by placing speakers outside the doors so that the business of the committee could be heard.
“The speakers were not working,” Birdsong said. “We could not hear anything.”
Typically, the tribe's business committee meetings are held at the tribes multi-purpose building, commonly called the AOA building, where an estimated 100 people can gather, according to tribal member Dolly Pewitt.
“Paul has never held a business committee meeting (at the tribal headquarters),” Pewitt said.
Pewitt and a group of other tribal members, including Birdsong and Ellison, said that Tuesday's meeting was not properly posted as it lacked the 72-hour notice mandated by tribal policy.
In the days following Tuesday's meeting, Birdsong has had discussions with her attorney, as has Ellison. To date, nothing has been filed on their behalf.
Pam Ireland, representing Birdsong, said Friday that she disagrees with Spicer's statements alleging that her client refused to participate in Tuesday's meeting and is neglecting her duties as a tribal officer.
Ireland said she and her client are looking at all of their options including a possible response to what may be a violation of Birdsong's civil rights.
Scott Edwards, who represents Ellison, defended the actions of his client.
“Mrs. Ellison declined to enter the business committee meeting because Chief Spicer refused to allow tribal members into the meeting in violation of the tribe's open meeting ordinance,” Edwards said. “Under the ordinance, all citizens of the tribe are allowed to attend the meeting to observe the conduct of their tribe's business.”
Spicer said Friday that the “real reason” that Birdsong and Ellison have issues with the tribe is that “they don't want to participate” and “they don't want to do their jobs.”
Both have been limited by actions of the business committee.
Spicer has consistently said that his recent re-election as chief of the tribe sits at the center of the issues with Birdsong and Ellison.
“You have to remember that these two women both have grievances against them,” Spicer said.
Birdsong and Ellison are both accused of abusing their constitutional duties and authority. The grievances were initiated after Birdsong picked up the gavel and continued to chair a meeting that Spicer adjourned on June 2.
Ellison took minutes of the meeting that has since been declared invalid.
Grievances have also been filed against Spicer, including a complaint alleging the misappropriation of tribal funds.