Thomas, Reels look for new terms on tribal council

Mashantucket - Michael Thomas, ousted two years ago as Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council chairman amid his controversial response to the tribe's financial woes, and Kenny Reels, his predecessor as chairman, are both seeking to regain seats on the seven-member panel that governs the tribe and oversees the management of its Foxwoods Resort Casino.

The men, both considered charismatic leaders during their days as chairmen, are among 13 tribal members certified as candidates for the two council seats up for election Nov. 6 at the tribe's annual meeting.

The list of candidates, posted Monday by the office of the council secretary, Marjorie Colebut-Jackson, and the tribal clerk, Melissa Hernandez, includes the names of a half-dozen former councilors as well as those of Councilors Richard E. Sebastian and James Jackson, whose seats are up for election. Sebastian is the council's vice chairman and Jackson its treasurer.

Tribal members had until 5 p.m. last Friday to make their candidacies known, pending their certification as members in good standing.

Thomas' name promises to inspire more discussion than any on the list given the circumstances that surrounded his ouster as chairman. On Aug. 31, 2009, the six other councilors voted unanimously to relieve Thomas of his duties as chairman and called for his resignation from the council. They also closed his office and placed him on administrative leave, all because of his response to what he himself termed the "dire financial times" facing the tribe.

With the tribe on the verge of a financial default and after multiple rounds of downsizing, Thomas had communicated directly with tribal members, vowing to protect from further reductions the tribal government and "incentive" payments, or stipends, paid to members.

"Instead," he wrote in an email to members, "Tribal Government and the Incentive will now be paid FIRST with any cuts or changes to our operation taking place after members are paid."

The other councilors considered Thomas' unilateral pledge irresponsible and quickly sought to distance themselves from it. The tribe, then facing a debt load of $2.3 billion, has since defaulted on bond payments and a bank loan and has yet to reach agreement with its lenders on a restructuring plan. In July 2010, the council informed tribal members that the incentive payments would cease at the end of that year.

Thomas, who was up for re-election in November 2009, did not run. He was succeeded as chairman by Rodney Butler, whose term as chairman continues through next year.

After many years on the council, Reels lost a re-election bid in 2008. He was vice chairman at the time.

Following this November's council election, the vice chairmanship held by Richard E. Sebastian and the treasurer's post held by James Jackson will be up for election in a separate vote among tribal members.

In addition to Thomas, Reels, Richard E. Sebastian and James Jackson, the council candidates are: Ralph Abbott Jr.; Gary Carter Sr.; Steven E. Colebut; Roy E. Colebut-Ingram Sr.; Charlene Jones; Anthony Sebastian; Thomas A. Whipple; James D. Walker and Timothy A. Walker.

Jones served three terms on the council before losing a re-election bid in 2009. Thomas Whipple is the husband of current Councilor Crystal Whipple.

In addition to Butler, the chairman; Colebut-Jackson, the secretary; and Crystal Whipple, the other councilors not up for election in November are Steven Thomas, who is Michael Thomas' brother, and Fatima Dames.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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