OKMULGEE — Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief George Tiger remained mum Wednesday as tribal council members prepared a letter asking him to resign due to his secret contract with a casino developer, which was revealed in a Tulsa World investigation.
The tribal council held an emergency session Tuesday night and voted 12-0 for a resolution of no confidence in Tiger. The council also decided to sign a letter asking Tiger to resign his position as chief, which he has held since Jan. 1, 2012.
Councilors cited a Sunday Tulsa World investigation as the reason for their action.
The World reported that Tiger signed a secret contract in 2009 with the developer of a Broken Arrow casino project. The project would have benefitted another tribe, the Kialegee Tribal Town, and would have competed with the Creek Nation’s River Spirit casino in Tulsa.
Several citizens at Tuesday’s emergency session of the tribal council also said they planned to file a petition seeking Tiger’s impeachment. As of late Wednesday, the tribe’s election board said no petition had been filed, though officials had received calls from citizens seeking information about how to circulate a removal petition.
In an email, a spokeswoman for Tiger said: “A statement from the Office of the Principal Chief will be made at the appropriate time.”
Tiger was in Las Vegas Tuesday to receive a national Indian Leadership Award. In an earlier interview with the World, he said he signed the contract before he was sworn into office in 2010 and he stopped working as a consultant after that.
About 50 tribal citizens turned out for the council’s emergency meeting Tuesday night.
“As citizens we have lost trust and faith in our elected officials,” said a woman who identified herself as a full-blood Creek tribal member from Hanna. “I will be one of the first people in line to grab a petition to impeach the chief.”
Creek Council member Lucian Tiger III, no relation to the chief, sponsored the resolution of no confidence in Tiger. During the meeting, he said he was not concerned about any possible fallout.
“I am one of the fortunate ones on the council who does not have any family that works for the nation,” he said.
Records obtained and reported by the World showed that two months after being elected to the tribe’s council in 2009, Tiger signed a lucrative consulting contract with the casino developer that would have paid Tiger a 5 percent share of gaming revenue and up to $200,000 in bonus payments along with other benefits.
Thomas Yahola, speaker of the tribal council, said councilors are working on the letter asking Tiger to resign and will send it once council members sign it. The letter and resolution of no confidence cannot force Tiger to step down.
When asked about the reasons behind the council’s action, Yahola cited the World story.
“When the citizens saw this, they began to call this office and asked what was going to be done,” Yahola said. “We looked at our constitution and our constitution allows a procedure for removal.”
He said those attending the meeting were told “before the national council can do anything, there has to be a petition” for removal.
Yahola said the constitution requires the signatures of 20 percent of the tribe’s registered voters, or about 3,200 signatures, to move forward.
In order to remove the tribe’s chief, 12 of the council’s 16 members are required to vote in favor of removal.
The council’s emergency session continued for more than an hour, during which some citizens denounced Tiger’s actions and others said their government had ignored their needs.
A man who said he was a tribal employee said Tiger “seems very untouchable.”
“You have to have a little integrity as a Creek person. The ethics went out the window a long time ago with our main guy.”
Earl Kelly, who said he works for the Creek Nation, said the tribe has “no transparency” with its finances.
“It’s a shame that we are touted to be the fourth-largest tribe in the United States yet our elders have to play benefit bingo to get medical benefits,” he said.
Yahola said the tribe’s controller is supposed to furnish regular financial reports to the council but those reports are “not detailed like we want.”
Records show in the years following their secret deal Tiger worked behind the scenes with developer Shane Rolls of Tulsa and the Kialegee Tribal Town to gain approval for the Kialegee casino in Broken Arrow. Meanwhile, then-Creek Nation Chief A.D. Ellis and others fought to stop the casino, which they viewed as violating Creek Nation sovereignty.
Tiger said his actions were legal and not a conflict of interest because they occurred before he was sworn into office as a tribal councilor in January 2010. However, Tiger was defined under the Creek Nation’s law and constitution as an “elected official” when he signed the contract and took payments from Rolls, records show.
The contract contains a clause requiring the agreement and payments to Tiger be kept confidential. Tiger never disclosed the contract to his tribe, despite his later veto of tribal legislation opposing the casino.
The Kialegee Tribal Town, based in Wetumka, was part of the original Creek Nation confederacy along with several other tribal settlements in Oklahoma. Today, the Kialegee are members of a separate tribe with about 400 members.
The Creek Nation has about 79,000 enrolled members.
The World recently obtained a copy of Tiger’s signed contract, copies of checks Rolls wrote to Tiger and a draft of a lawsuit Rolls once planned to file against Tiger related to the controversial casino deal.
Tiger and Rolls said they had done nothing wrong and the documents represent a failed business deal.
Records show nearly all of Rolls’ $31,500 in payments to Tiger came after he was an elected official, as defined by the Creek Nation’s law and constitution.
After Tiger was elected chief in 2011, records show he continued to accept money from Rolls and attended several meetings on the casino project. His about-face happened after he was sworn in as chief and opposition grew.
A federal judge’s injunction against the casino construction was thrown out by an appeals court. Rolls said plans are back underway for the casino but it will be built elsewhere due to intense opposition to the Broken Arrow site.
The Creek Nation’s River Spirit Casino is undergoing a massive $329 million expansion, adding a Margaritaville-themed casino, restaurant and 27-story hotel. The lender’s terms for that project won’t allow the Creeks to open a competing casino in the surrounding area.
The Kialegee casino would have siphoned up to $40 million away each year from the River Spirit Casino.
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306