Mailer dispute breaks out in Thunder Valley casino owner’s tribal council election

Claims and counter-claims as Auburn tribe moves toward Dec. 11 ballot-box showdown
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With days to go before an election for two United Auburn Indian Community tribal council posts, challengers are protesting rules that have kept their mailers from going out to voters. The 275-member, Auburn-based tribe – which owns Thunder Valley Casino between Roseville and Lincoln – has been awash in controversy over the past month as a breakaway group led by tribal council candidates broke ranks and publicly criticized council financial and election-related actions, as well as what they consider undue influence of long-time tribal attorney Howard Dickstein. The breakaway group – led by former tribal council Chairwoman Jessica Tavares and long-time tribal council member Dolly Suehead – have in turn been criticized by the elected tribal council for what it considers public defamation and false statements they say put members’ economic security at risk. The dispute came to a head two weeks ago when the tribal council voted to suspend benefits to seven tribal members from the breakaway group. That followed criticism of measures put in place by the tribal council that required notarized signatures on a recall petition that was ultimately denied by the tribal election committee. With an election Dec. 11 and Tavares running for tribal vice chairwoman against incumbent Kim Rey Dubac, and Suehead taking on current tribal council treasurer Brenda Conway, the two issued a statement Tuesday denouncing what they say is “blatant censorship” of their mailer. The two were reacting to what they said was a decision by Tribal Administrator Greg Baker to disallow a tribe-funded mailing of a campaign mailer that claims the United Auburn Indian Community has been “bamboozled by an attorney more interested in filling his garage with Ferraris than serving the interest of our tribe, and the greed of a tribal council that rubber stamps his decision and no longer looks after our best interests.” The tribal council has shot back with a statement of its own, stating that the mailer is filled with misinformation that “makes it appear the tribe is legitimizing this type of gutter politics and giving the allegations credibility.” The tribal council is contending that the flyer violates a mail policy adopted Oct. 20 that require mailing materials to “contain accurate and appropriate information.” “Inappropriate” content includes “statements, pictures of photos which are defamatory of fellow UAIC tribal members, candidates, UAIC staff and consultants, the general council and the tribal council,” according to a copy of the mail policy provide to the Journal by the tribal council. $25 million for a lawyer but education cuts? The Tavares-Suehead flyer states that the tribal council closed the tribe’s privately funded middle and high school classrooms while paying a lawyer $25 million. That issue hits at the heart of the tribe’s initial goals when it was re-established in the mid-1990s to help provide better educational opportunities to youthful members. It established a school in Auburn on Indian Hill Road after the casino opened and continues with elementary school classes. “It’s time to put the needs of our community and our children first,” the mailer states. But the tribal council has said that private post-elementary school tuition can still be made available to students. And in a response to some of the attacks in the mailer against Dickstein and the tribal council, it stated that the flyer goes beyond opinions or comments. “They are factual and intentional misrepresentations,” the tribal council states. “Perhaps the worst of the many policy violations in the flyer are the two – under the picture of the ‘closed’ school and the photo of Howard Dickstein that the school changes occurred while ‘the attorney’ was getting $25 million,” the council contends. “Dolly and Jessica know very well that these allegations are not true because they were the chair and treasurer when the percentage fee was set and stopped, years before the school changes.”