Tribal tribulations August 23, 2009 2:00 AM
MASHPEE — New leaders might control the daily operations of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, but the same old complaints fester.
Outspoken opponents of Chairman Cedric Cromwell and his administration have called for a tribal meeting today. They are seeking information about tribe finances and a quickly dissolving deal with casino investors.
It has been six months since Cromwell took over the tribe, which had been tainted by a scandal involving its former chairman and secretive deals. In January, Cromwell and his supporters used a similar meeting to seek answers about the money coming into tribe coffers. Since Cromwell was elected in February, that money has stopped flowing as the tribe has severed its ties with consultants while challenging investors. In June, the tribal council voted unanimously not to reaffirm the tribe's agreement with investors, and since then has been locked in a stalemate.
Casino moguls Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman have stopped payments to the tribe. That money was used to pay the administration's operating expenses and pursuit of a casino in Middleboro.
Consultants providing legal, lobbying and public relations services were paid $2.2 million by investors, according to internal financial records for fiscal 2008. In total, the casino investors provided $4 million for the tribe's budget, including nearly
$1 million for pay and benefits of tribal council officers and staff.
But in recent weeks, the investors also have declined to pay an environmental engineering firm that was hired to survey the 539 acres proposed for the Middleboro casino. Cromwell would not say how much the firm is now owed. That leaves the application to put the land into federal trust on hold. It is just one of many hurdles the tribe is facing in its bid to bring expanded gambling to Massachusetts.
Tribe members have been informed about the tribe's ailing finances and its rocky relationship with investors, Cromwell said. But he promised to update that information at today's meeting.
During a press conference two weeks ago at the Old Indian Cemetery, at least 25 members of the 1,500-member tribe gathered to complain about the election and changes made by the new administration, according to The Mashpee Enterprise.
Many of those attending were on the tribal council previously or held high-ranking positions in the tribe. They included Gayle Andrews, a former tribe spokeswoman who left after the February election, and Patricia Oakley, who was a tribe genealogist before she was fired. Those same tribe members repeatedly declined to speak with Cape Cod Times reporters before and after the Old Indian Cemetery press conference.
Although he disagrees with issues raised by those tribe members, Cromwell said they have a right to question their leaders.
"I do believe in freedom of speech, but the commitment that I have to the tribe is we have to unify," he said.
Unity has been difficult for the tribe to achieve.
In the weeks that followed Cromwell's election, an anonymous blog appeared, called Reel Wamps, that takes shots at his leadership.
As in most governments, Cromwell acknowledged there are always opponents to new leadership.
"There are certainly a lot of folks that weren't part of that change," Cromwell said of those who don't agree with his platform.
"They have a voice."