BARAGA - The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council eliminated the position of chief executive officer at their first meeting of the new year Saturday. The position had been held for several years by Larry Denomie, III.
The move came just minutes after three new council members and one incumbent were sworn in. Two of the newcomers, Donald Shalifoe Sr. and Eddy Edwards, were chosen as council president and treasurer, respectively.
The CEO's duties as supervisor of the tribe's government and administrator over daily operations were given to the president, and his duties as supervisor of tribal business operations, including the lucrative Ojibwa Casinos, were given to the treasurer.
Arguing for the power redistribution resolution during the meeting, Edwards said eliminating the CEO's position would "reduce the turf battles" he felt existed.
After the meeting, Shalifoe said the governmental reorganization had been a major part of his campaign platform.
"People as a whole felt that the tribal government was stagnant and not going anywhere," he said. In particular, he added, "the casino is old, and we want to move on to bigger, better things, and more fiscal responsibility."
A second resolution proposed by Edwards and passed by the council was a step towards a new casino.
That resolution was for a $9,200 site study by OHM Advisors to examine the possibility of a new casino on the Baraga waterfront.
The plan would include buying the existing Baraga Waterfront Hotel and building additional facilities adjacent to the hotel.
The tribe had been seeking approval to build a new casino in Marquette County. That idea had been nixed by the state, though a minority of council members who voted against the OHM study preferred restarting the process for another Marquette proposal.
Edwards said the election of the three new members showed popular support for the reorganization and new fiscal priorities.
"We've done things a certain way for a long time and we need to go in a new direction," he said, adding that he felt the tribe had been operating businesses as if they were primarily social programs.
"Our approach is still to take care of people," he said. "But if we can't make money we can't take care of people."
Prior to the installation of the new council members and the rapid changes they led, the council thanked the three outgoing board members including Fred Dakota, a former tribal chairman who's been a political power for decades.
"Changes will occur due to this election, that's the will of the people," noted Denomie, in one of his last official statements. "When changes occur, I hope the employees remember it's due to the democratic process."
Dakota hinted that the power pendulum might not be finished swinging.
"It's been my pleasure to serve," he said just before leaving the room. "I'll probably be back."
Council members also approved a $28 per hour stipend for the council president, to cover both existing and new presidential duties.