For the first time many in the tribe could remember, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians will allow for open enrollment, mere days before its annual council election next Saturday, Oct. 7.
In a statement put out on the tribe’s Facebook page Friday, application packages will begin to be sent out to enrolled members starting Monday.
It was not immediately clear whether previously disenrolled members would be allowed to apply for potential re-enrollment. Requests to tribal officials on Friday for additional information about the enrollment process were not answered by Sunday morning. The tribe’s office is at 42960 Chapel Hill Drive in Oakhurst.
The tribe has had repeated clashes for years over who can be enrolled as a member, and has repeatedly disenrolled members during factional disputes – including some who have held leadership positions in the tribe.
Some have called the move by incumbent chairwoman Claudia Gonzales, up for re-election alongside Dixie Jackson, Morris Reid, and Harold Hammond, as an attempt to sway the political pendulum in their favor by trying to show good faith before the election.
“This is all strategically set up right before the election,” said Steven McDonald, one of 19 candidates, including the four incumbents, on this year’s ballot. “They have no good intentions here. They’re trying to ensure they’ll win, and this is definitely going to create some fireworks that could shut down the casino for good. All because of their stupidity, greed, and corruption.”
McDonald is the son of Tex McDonald, who led an armed raid of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in October of 2014 that led to the Coarsegold resort’s closure for nearly 15 months. That cost the tribe an estimated $125 million, and forced more than 850 employees to lose their jobs before it reopened on New Year’s Eve 2015.
Anyone with questions can email EnrollmentDept@chukchansi-nsn.gov or call 559-412-5590. The tribe’s office is at 42960 Chapel Hill Drive in Oakhurst.
Tribal officials say that their decision for open enrollment took many months for the council to work with a third party and ensure the rarity of the move complied with the tribe’s constitution.
Steven McDonald’s gaming license was also suspended Friday by the tribal gaming commission, on the grounds that he made an accusatory Facebook post about the council. Plus, council members said, there is video evidence he participated in that October raid with his father.
“This has nothing to do with the election,” said Gonzales. “This is a (Tribal) Gaming Commission matter, and we have complete confidence that our Commissioners Phil Hogen, Joe Smith and Mark Emerick will handle it appropriately.”
It was not immediately clear whether McDonald would still be allowed to have a seat on the council despite suspension of his gaming license. He said he’s been a card dealer at the casino for more than 14 years.
Hogen, Smith, and Emerick comprise the tribe's gaming commission, a third- party body independent of the council by law.
Appointments to determine if an applicant can be enrolled will begin Oct. 9, two days after the election is held.
Candidates for the four seats are: Claudia Gonzales, Dixie Jackson, Morris Reid, and Harold Hammond. Also running are Edwin Appling, Jr., Dominique Carrillo, Jacqueline Faccinto, Dustin Graham, Laurie Lawhon, Steven McDonald, David E. Works IV, Jill Bull, Melvin Espe, Nicolette Griffith, Eugene D. Lewis, Thomas E. Pisano, Jennifer Ruiz, and Nokomis Hernandez and Dora Jones.
Heather Airey and Tom Walker remain on the seven-member council. Patrick Hammond, who along with Airey won in last year’s election, was forcibly removed from his seat earlier this year for undisclosed reasons. He did not have a comment Friday, but said he had obtained legal representation and awaited a hearing with the tribe next week.