Attempted Seneca CEO Takeover Voided by Law, Porter remains as CEO

Attempted Seneca CEO Takeover Voided by Law, Porter remains as CEO

Gale Courey Toensing
11/14/11

An attempted takeover of the Seneca Nation of Indian’s position of Chief Executive Officer has been voided under the Nation’s laws.

Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter reaffirmed his position as CEO of the 8,000-member tribe Sunday, a day after a council vote to remove him from that office was found to be in violation of the Nation’s 1848 Constitution and Ethics Law. Porter said the attempt to vote him out of the office was “rife with dirty politics.”

Seneca Nation Clerk Diane Kennedy Murth issued a certified document Sunday, November 13, citing a section of the Nation’s Constitution that says the clerk must certify all actions by the council and that “the Nation’s Ethics Law prohibits Nation officials from acting upon matters in which they or their family members have a personal interest.” A day earlier, the Seneca Nation Council voted 10-6 on a motion by Councilor J.C. Seneca and seconded by Councilor Donald John to remove Porter from his position as CEO and appoint Councilor Michael “Spike” John to the position. Donald and Michael John are brothers.

“On November 12, 2011, the Council purported to enact a resolution to remove President Robert Odawi Porter from the position of Chief Executive Officer and appoint Councilor Michael L. John to said position at the salary of the previous Chief Executive Officer,” Murth wrote, citing Section 2.2(a) of the Nation’s Ethics Law, which prohibits Nation officials from acting upon matters in which they or their family members have a personal interest. The vote “was taken in violation of the Nation’s Ethics Law; Such action cannot be certified by the Clerk as a lawful action of the Nation’s Council and is therefore null and void,” Murth wrote.

Porter said in a prepared statement that the decision to oust him as CEO “is rife with dirty politics. Spike John voted on his own position and his own brother seconded the motion.”

Based on Murth’s finding, Porter issued an executive order directing all Seneca Nation government agencies and employees to ignore any orders from John. Porter notes in his executive order that the Nation’s 1848 Constitution as amended established a three-part government structure comprised of separate legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. “Based upon the actions of the Nation Clerk and the separation of powers contained within the Nation government … the appointment of Councilor Michael L. John to the position of Chief Executive Officer, an executive branch employee, is hereby declared null and void,” Porter wrote. He ordered “that no order, directive, or instruction to any Nation employee from Michael L. John, nor any information or statement regarding the Nation’s interests conveyed to any non-Nation governmental official or the media, shall have any force or effect.”

Murth’s ruling and Porter’s executive order restore the political status quo to what it was before Saturday’s attempted takeover and comes amid rumors that John planned to remove Chairman Richard Nephew from office. Nephew supports Porter and voted against the motion to remove him as CEO.

The political upheaval comes almost exactly one year after Porter was elected president in a landslide victory in which he garnered 77 percent of the vote. Porter, a Harvard Law School graduate, served formerly as the Nation’s general counsel. It also comes as the Nation is embroiled in conflict with New York state over cigarette taxes, a violation of the exclusivity provision of the Seneca’s gaming compact, and the state’s intention to expand commercial gaming.

The divisions on council appear to be at least in part based on personal animosities. Last week, while Porter attended the United South and Eastern Tribes annual meeting, the Buffalo News reported that Porter accused council member Susan P. Abrams of “loan sharking.” Abrams, who supported the move to oust Porter, denied the allegation. Last June, Porter fired Abrams from the $100,000 a year job as a legislative specialist to which he had appointed her earlier the previous year. She could not be reach for comment

It is not clear, however, why Councilor J.C. Seneca initiated the motion to remove Porter from that office since Seneca and Porter have worked together effectively in the past. Seneca did not respond to an e-mail seeking comments.

Porter said the council’s vote Saturday reflected “political discontent” with his efforts to “crack down on corrupt insider deals and refusal to go along with the ‘business as usual’ practices that have marked previous Nation administrations. ... (and) the ‘old direction’ that I believe the Seneca people rejected last fall.” He said that Abrams and Seneca “put personal interests ahead of the Seneca people and the Seneca Nation. I will stand firm in my responsibility to protect the best interests of all Seneca people in the days to come.”

On Monday, Porter issued a conciliatory statement calling for the Nation's 16-member council to work together to end the political turmoil.

“It is unfortunate that circumstances have evolved as they have. The actions I have taken during the past year have been done with the best interests of the Nation and the Seneca people in mind," Porter said. "Rather than escalate the conflict between the branches of government, I am willing to meet with the Council to discuss and implement new methods for administering the Nation’s government so that peace can be maintained and that the darker forces that seek our Nation’s destruction can be effectively dealt with. The issues facing us today are too great and we must not allow internal divisions to diminish the hard work and progress the Seneca Nation has made in recent years.”

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