A week after the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe had a landmark bill pass through the US House of Representatives, a petition is moving forward to oust tribal council Chairman Cedric D. Cromwell from the helm of the tribe’s lead board.
The Mashpee Wampanaog Tribal Election Committee found last Friday, May 24, that some 100 signatures written on a recall petition to oust the chairman are sufficient, and thus the recall should move forward.
Tribal citizens involved in the process are waiting for a date for a hearing, which would be followed by a tribe-wide vote.
“I am doing what I said I would do when I was elected,” said tribal council member Aaron Tobey Jr., who has led the recall. “I’m fighting for transparency and to restore the respect of the council.”
While Mr. Cromwell’s petition is moving forward, a similar petition against tribal council vice chairwoman Jessie (Little Doe) Baird will not. The same election committee found that the recall was lacking four certified signatures. Six tribal citizens had called the election committee to remove their names, dropping the 102 certified signatures down to 96—below the required 100.
But while the petition was halted, Mr. Tobey has brought two complaints to tribal court: one against Ms. Baird and another against the tribal election committee.
Also new, a recall petition has been filed against treasurer of the council Gordon Harris for missing a number of meetings. The petition notes that Mr. Harris serves an important role on the lead board, is paid more than $70,000, and his absence from several meetings is a dereliction of duties.
The petition against Mr. Cromwell stems from a letter of resignation submitted by Ms. Baird earlier this year. Ms. Baird continues to sit on the council despite her letter, because, Mr. Cromwell and others argue, the council never accepted her resignation. Mr. Tobey, on the other hand, said her resignation became official upon submitting the letter and he calls Mr. Cromwell complicit in allowing her to stay on the committee; the petition also calls out Mr. Cromwell for not calling a special election to replace Ms. Baird.
The petition further states that Mr. Cromwell has made more than $1 million from the tribe, with “very little to show for it: no casino, no jobs, and Taunton land mortgaged with no monies to pay the mortgage note.”
The tribe’s financial backer, Genting, has written off the tribe’s casino project as a $500 million loss, although it continues to support the tribe’s efforts on its land bill.
Mr. Cromwell did not respond for comment on the recall petition.
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The election committee, as written in its approval of the more than 100 signatures, stated that it is scheduling a recall election and a hearing, which will be posted in the tribal government center.
The petition needs 60 percent of the total vote to recall Mr. Cromwell, and 40 percent of the last election total must be present for the vote. In the last election, a total of 472 ballots were cast.
In court, Mr. Tobey is making the same argument as he did in the recall petition for Ms. Baird. He argues, citing the tribe’s constitution, that she should no longer serve as vice chairwoman because she submitted her resignation.
“This should be a concern for all of us because of the serious implications it has on our ability to govern in accordance with the constitution and uphold the political integrity of the council,” Mr. Tobey said. “It is a ‘dereliction of duty’ with consequences for tribal council to allow Jessie Baird to illegally hold the vice chair position after her resignation.”
In this case, Mr. Tobey is requesting that a judge in the tribal court, the Honorable Jeffrey L. Madison, should recuse himself due to a conflict of interest. The judge is on the board of Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project, which Ms. Baird directs.
Mr. Tobey requested in the May 8 filing that another justice be appointed.
On May 7, Mr. Tobey also filed a complaint against the election committee, according to files he supplied to the Enterprise. The tribal council member argues that the committee failed in its duty to conduct recall elections in compliance with the tribe’s constitution. His argument refers to a ruling made by the committee on April 30, when they found that several of the nearly 150 signatories on the recall petition had failed to write their full address with zip codes. Mr. Tobey argued that the petition had enough signatures from tribal registered voters, and he asked for injunctive relief from the court.
Most of Mr. Tobey’s legal filing makes a case against the tribal council’s waiving sovereign immunity, likely expecting the government’s argument to reject his claims. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that governments employ, the tribe being no exemption, to keep from being sued. Mr. Tobey quotes a number of paragraphs from a 2012 opinion made by then-Chief Judge Henry J. Sockbeson. The opinion essentially states that the tribal council cannot employ sovereign immunity for every case brought against it; otherwise the tribe’s constitution would ring hollow when holding the council accountable.
“If the Tribal Council were able to assert sovereign immunity every time a violation of these mandates occurred, then the Constitution itself would be reduced to a hollow shell,” reads one line Mr. Tobey quoted. “It would no longer be the supreme law of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, rather the Tribal Council would be unrestrained in what it could or could not do and they would be the supreme authority—an outcome not contemplated by the Tribal Constitution. Were the Court to agree that sovereign immunity applied to all actions of the Tribal Council then the intent of the people to have a government of laws based upon its will would be frustrated.”
It is unclear at what speed the complaint in the tribal court will proceed, but Mr. Tobey has requested a hearing.