Tribal Government & News

Tribal Council clashes over SMGI Board appointment process

06.13.2024 Danielle Harrison Tribal Council, Spirit Mountain Casino


By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals editor

One Tribal Council member voted no and two abstained on two Spirit Mountain Gaming Inc. Board of Directors appointments at a Wednesday, May 29, Tribal Council meeting after a nearly 90-minute discussion.

A 5-3 decision was made to approve the appointments to the board, with Matthew Haller casting a “no” vote, and Jon A. George and Lisa Leno abstaining due to what they said were inconsistencies and unfairness with the selection process.   

Several of the council members who voted in favor said that all applicants were interviewed and scored, and that there was precedent for the actions that had been taken in extending the appointment process.

They also agreed that the process – which originally began in September – had taken too long and needed more consistency moving forward.

After an agenda item was introduced at a Tuesday, May 28, Legislative Action Committee meeting recommending that council reappoint Lisa Watson and appoint Justin Martin to two open board spots during its Wednesday, May 29 meeting, council member Matthew Haller said he would not be voting in favor of the appointments.

“I completely oppose this process,” he said. “It has been unethical and unfair for many reasons…What I will say is that as council members, we have one way to say what’s right and what’s wrong and that’s our vote. You cannot sit in the middle. You have to go with your voice so I’m going to oppose this process publicly.”

Council member Kathleen George said none of the 11 applicants who applied for the SMGI Board were excluded from consideration.

“If Tribal members are interested, I do suggest you look into the facts and the timeline as they unrolled,” she said. “I just wanted to clarify it has always been Tribal Council policy since taking over the interview process back in 2017, that all applicants be interviewed so that every applicant is considered…I’ll be happy to make a memo I’m preparing that includes the dates for which actions were taken available to anyone who’s interested.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, which lasted more than two hours, all council members gave statements about whether they opposed or supported the appointments. Those who didn’t vote “yes” said it wasn’t due to the appointees’ qualifications but the process itself.  

According to information shared during both meetings, boards for Oregon Tribal casinos typically do the recruitment, appointing and replacing for their board members. The Grand Ronde Tribal Council took on the responsibility officially in 2018 from the SMGI Board in order to provide more transparency in the process.

The two open board spots were first advertised in the Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, 2023 editions of Smoke Signals and received two applications. After those had been received, SMGI Board members were informed another position would likely need to be filled due to the potential resignation of a board member, so they asked council to extend the deadline in order to receive more applications.

The two open board positions were again advertised, this time in the Feb. 15 and March 1 editions of Smoke Signals, resulting in multiple applicants.

 “My concern from the very beginning in terms of the board of directors’ positions, is that I felt we had two candidates that applied and met the deadline of Sept. 30,” Leno said. “It is my continued belief that we should have interviewed those candidates (before extending the deadline) to determine whether or not they were appropriate for the board. Instead, there was a majority that decided to go ahead and open the process back up. I don’t oppose the two people moving forward because I believe they will do an amazing job. For me, it goes back to the very beginning of the process.”

Tribal Council Secretary Michael Cherry said that she had noticed inconsistent practices and had documented those.

“I voted to move forward with extending that deadline because we did so in the past,” she said. “(I thought) we had three positions to fill and what I understood was only one applicant at the time, knowing that we needed to fill more positions and we didn’t have enough applicants…Moving forward, I did state on Tuesday at LAC that this process could be better and we could move forward in a better way…This process moved from the SMGI Board to Tribal Council in 2018. Council has had it since then. I would like to see this process go back to the SMGI Board.”

Cherry put forward an authorization to proceed on May 15, moving the selection process back to the SMGI Board. That will be presented at a future Legislative Action Committee meeting and then to the council for potential approval.

“I really have a lot of faith and trust in our SMGI Board,” she said. “Those recommendations come from the board and they come to Tribal Council. We’re still appointing and still involved in the process. We have three Tribal Council members on the board who will participate in that process, too.”

Vice Chair Chris Mercier said while he wasn’t as emotionally invested in the process as some of his co-workers, he was in agreement that the appointment process should not have taken more than six months to complete.

“This process has not been consistent and we can all recognize that,” he said. “I didn’t like the fact that we interviewed 11 people and we could only pick two of them…I knew that only picking two of those people would be upsetting. I don’t want this to turn into an ugly back-and-forth…I think we need to be consistent and I don’t think anyone is entitled to these positions. We should always look for the strongest possible candidates because we’re talking about our casino board.”

Tuomi said she agreed with Chris that the process was inconsistent.

‘It’s embarrassing and I’m embarrassed that Tribal Council, all nine of us, couldn’t sit back there and have a conversation and that it has to be out here on camera…We could have addressed this early on during the process and we could have done better.”

Jon A. George said as a Tribal leader, he doesn’t make decisions based on whether he likes someone or they like him.

“I’m here to make decisions professionally and ethically about who would be the best fit for these things,” he said. “I have no qualms about anyone that we interviewed, I just thought the process was very confusing…There were two applications, two openings and how simple it would be to fill those positions from that. It’s the process that needs to be addressed in this situation.”

Kathleen George re-iterated that it was unfortunate that things had dragged on for so long.

“It’s really unfortunate that things have gone the way that they have and it’s interesting to see the one thing we can all agree on is that this process was not consistent and it could have gone a lot better,” she said. 

Harvey said that when hiring for a position with only one applicant, it makes for a tough decision.

“If you’ve got position with one applicant, you don’t know if that’s the best or worst person for the job,” she said. “You have to make a decision based on that one person. I am not comfortable in that situation and always like an applicant pool of at least three for any open position and especially for high-level positions.”

Haller re-iterated his stance that the process had been unfair to the two original applicants who had applied by the Sept. 30 deadline.

“I will say some of the undeniable facts are there were only two applicants that met the requirements to apply and only two applicants deserved an initial interview,” he said. “These qualified applicants that initially met all the right criteria to receive an interview were strung along and forced into an unfair interview pool many months after the application was closed…Many of the 11 applicants were openly solicited to apply for these positions…Why were the (original) two denied a fair interview process initially, when they were the only qualified candidates?”

SMGI Board Chair Andy Jenness said that the board had no idea who the original applicants were, only that they had two applications, and that when the third position was going to be opened up, he sent a letter to council on behalf of the board, asking that they extend the deadline in order to have a larger pool of candidates.

“The casino is our primary economic engine and we need to make sure that we have the finest talent on that board to ensure that there is excellent oversight and that it continues to perform and provide for our members,” he said. “I also wanted to touch on one thing Matthew Haller said, that we went out and solicited people. I have to say yes, we did. I called several people that I knew had excellent background and great professional experiences that could add to the success of the board and casino. If that’s wrong, I want council to let me know…I can’t believe that would be the case that we’re not supposed to go out and try to find qualified candidates for our board.”

Kennedy thanked everyone for their input.

“We’ve heard a lot of differences of opinion and that’s what Tribal Council is about…listening to each other, making a decision, voting from your heart and your conscience, and putting forth the best effort that you have. I know that in my 20 years here, there have been a lot of drastic changes.”

In other action, Tribal Council:

  • Approved appointing Daniel Stroebel to the Election Board with a term ending on March 31, 2025;
  • Approved the harvest and sale of the Mawich Logging Unit to Round Valley LLC with all excess value, less the costs of logging and fees paid, be returned to the Tribe;
  • Approved the harvest and sale of the Lilu Thin Logging Unit to Round Valley LLC with all excess value, less the costs of logging and fees paid, be returned to the Tribe;
  • Approved an application to the Coalitions & Collaborations Inc. Community Navigator Program Catalyst Fund for a $147,000 grant;
  • Approved an application to the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime Tribal Victims Services Set Aside Formula Program grant for $212,422 for 2024 and $212,422 each year for the following four years;
  • Approved an application for the ODHS Resiliency Hubs and Networks Grant for $222,222;
  • And approved a $100,000 application to Spirit Mountain Community Fund for a Tribal grant for the design and construction of the Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center’s arbor project.

Council also approved three authorizations to proceed. The first was for adoption of the kindergarten enrollment and eligibility policy for the Tribally-operated school. The second was to increase the medical adaptation grant to $15,000 for the remainder of 2024 and up to $20,000 in 2025. The third is to purchase a $46,000 passenger van for the Procurement Department to replace the 2010 van with a failing motor.  

To watch the entire meeting, visit the Tribal government’s website at and click on the Videos tab.