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In Chukchansi election, Morris Reid faction affiliates win sweep of seven seats

Morris Reid, a Chukchansi tribal member shown in a file photo, received the most votes in the latest balloting for a tribal council.
Morris Reid, a Chukchansi tribal member shown in a file photo, received the most votes in the latest balloting for a tribal council. jwalker@fresnobee.com

Affiliates of the Morris Reid faction won a sweep of seven seats in the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians’ election held Saturday.

Four of the seven winners were members of the 2011 slate that won the election, but vocally declined to take their seats after member Harold Hammond was deemed disqualified to take one of the four spots.

That group started its own second faction that eventually led to the creation of several competing groups when later boards had other disagreements.

In Saturday’s contest, Reid led the vote count with 201 and Hammond followed close behind with 199. Also getting votes were the other two members of that 2011 slate – Dixie Jackson with 177 votes and Dora Jones at 143 votes.

Nokomis Hernandez, with 149 votes, joins Jones and Reid as members of the “interim tribal council” appointed by the federal government earlier this year to distribute federal funds and work with the government on other issues, including the reopening of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino.

Reid affiliate Claudia Gonzales finished third with 185 votes and Tom Walker, 166 votes, was fourth. Walker is a former tribal gaming commission chairman.

The finish in the election will determine who takes one-year or two-year seats.

Getting a stable leadership council formed is a key part of the tribe’s drive to reopen its casino. It was closed nearly a year ago when rival factions squared off in a takeover attempt. That led the federal government to order the casino to be shut down on Oct. 10, 2014, until affairs could be straightened out.

Reggie Lewis, chairman of the 2010 interim council, has promised to appeal Saturday’s results. He said the election was tainted by a council decision to allow voters who were disenrolled between 2010 and 2012. Lewis told supporters not to vote for him on Saturday.

Lewis, Nancy Ayala and Jennifer Stanley voted to keep the 150 people disenrolled during that period from the latest voting. Lewis said that those disenrolled would have had the right to contest their disenrollments after the election.

But the majority of the interim council – Reid, Jones, Hernandez and Chance Alberta – voted for the participation of those disenrolled after 2010.

Disenrollments in 2011 were a pivotal issue in that election, leading to the factional split. Reid, Jones, Hammond and Jackson were the top four in that election. They opposed disenrollments that took place in the months before the election and others afterward. Lewis and Alberta, who supported those disenrollments at the time, lost their seats in 2011.

When the factional split occurred, Lewis and Alberta remained on the Lewis council with Nancy Ayala and Jennifer Stanley. Lewis, Ayala and Stanley were well behind others in the voting.

Alberta chose not to run after submitting his name for election, citing family and business reasons. His work in the Chukchansi Economic Development Authority, the business arm of the tribe, is under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.

Initially, 32 people signed up to run in Saturday’s election, but by the end of the campaign the number of active candidacies had dwindled to around two dozen.

One woman complained Saturday about not being allowed to vote. Kelly Graef was denied by officials overseeing the election because she was disenrolled in 2006 in a situation that did not relate to current issues. A tribal official said Graef was told earlier in the week she could not vote and that the voting papers sent to her were an oversight by the company running the election.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin

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