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North Stonington - Eastern Pequot tribal members Saturday elected Dennis Jenkins chairman of the tribal council.
Jenkins, 62, had been serving as acting chairman since Brian Geer resigned in June over the alleged misuse of more than $60,000 in tribal funds. State police subsequently charged Geer with first-degree larceny.
Jenkins said he garnered half of the more than 120 votes cast in balloting at the tribe's "longhouse" offices. He outpolled two other candidates, Katherine Sebastian Dring and Lynn Powers, he said.
Sheri Jones, unopposed for corresponding secretary, also was elected.
While asserting that federal recognition remains the tribe's top priority, Jenkins, a retired state trooper, said he plans to immediately pursue changes in the tribe's election laws.
"My first order of business is looking at our election ordinances and constitution as far as determining who's eligible to run for offices," he said. "I promised the membership that that would be done."
The treasurer's office remains vacant after tribal members nominated for it were deemed ineligible, Jenkins said.
He said he would control access to "the little bit of money we have left" until a treasurer is elected.
Jenkins said he also would seek to reduce the size of the council, which has 14 seats, one of which is unfilled. He said he prefers a return to a nine- or seven-member council.
The tribe officially refers to itself as the Historic Eastern Pequots, the name the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs used in a 2002 decision in which it approved the combined federal-recognition applications of the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots. The BIA ruled that the tribes, which shared a reservation on Lantern Hill, were actually factions of a single "historical" tribe.
In 2005, the Interior Board of Indian Affairs vacated the BIA's ruling, and the Department of the Interior later rescinded the tribe's recognition.
Now, Jenkins noted, the BIA is considering changing the standards for recognition. Tribes recognized by the federal government are eligible to apply for certain grants and can request that land be taken into trust for economic development, including casinos.
"Our goal is to get our recognition back. That's our No. 1 priority," Jenkins said. "We need it for our tribal members, for their health, housing, education."
He said he does not believe the tribe should pursue a casino if it gains recognition.
"My personal opinion is that we don't need another casino (in the region)," Jenkins said. "I don't think the climate is right for it now in Connecticut, especially with Massachusetts coming on line. There are so many other economic development opportunities out there."
Jenkins, who serves as second vice president of the Norwich branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, described himself as "a straight shooter." He said he sought to stabilize the tribe in the wake of his predecessor's alleged embezzlement.
Jenkins said he reported Geer's apparent misuse of funds to state police after Geer's sister, Brenda Geer, brought it to his attention. Jenkins was tribal vice chairman at the time.
"I have to give her credit," he said. "For her to give a statement against her own brother took a lot of courage."
Brenda Geer is now vice chairwoman.