Injunction sought to halt tribal vote on casino plan

A group of Yurok tribal members is seeking to block a special election that proposes allocating part of a $27.5 million legal settlement to the construction of a new casino in Klamath.

Tribal activist James Dunlap says Yurok officials violated the tribe's election ordinance because they did not publish an official election notice 45 days prior to the special election. Officials also failed to post an election notice at established polling places, send public service announcements to local media outlets and mail sample ballots to tribal members, he said.

On Wednesday, Dunlap said he was in the process of filing a petition for injunctive relief with Yurok Tribal Court that seeks to declare the Tribal Council's special election invalid.

Tribal officials will withhold comment until the petition is officially filed, spokesman Matt Mais said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Dunlap is sponsoring a petition drive that proposes the disbursal of the entire settlement amount to tribal members, minus $500,000 for attorney fees. He and roughly 30 other tribal members said they gathered 648 signatures and delivered them in a sealed,

notarized envelope to the tribe's election department on Monday.

The petition needed 593 signatures to put the proposal on a ballot. The Election Board will meet on Friday to discuss the petition, according to Dunlap.

"The legal department reviewed it and concluded it is a legal petition," he said. "(The Election Department) will basically be verifying that the signatures that have been collected are from registered voting tribal members."

The petition is in response to a Yurok Tribal Council decision Jan. 12 to propose a referendum that, if approved in a tribal election next month, would distribute 63 percent of the settlement to members. The remaining 37 percent, about $10 million, would pay for construction of a destination hotel-casino, according to Tribal Chairman Thomas O'Rourke Sr.

The council made its decision about a week after the settlement was finalized in a class action lawsuit involving the Yuroks and 41 other tribes as plaintiffs. The suit, Nez Perce Tribe, et al. v. Salazar, dealt with mismanagement of tribal government funds and natural resources, O'Rourke stated in a Jan. 24 letter to tribal members.

To participate in the special election, tribal members must send ballots to the Klamath Post Office by Feb. 20.

Under the Yurok Tribe's election ordinance, the Tribal Council must approve a referendum at least 30 days in advance for it to be included in the tribe's annual regularly scheduled election. The Council can also call for a special election.

According to Dunlap, special elections are subject to the requirements outlined in the tribe's ordinance, including a 45-day period between posting an official election notice and sending out ballots.

"The whole purpose is to allow members the 45 days to register to vote in the upcoming special election," he said.

According to tribal member Frank McCovey, who helped gather signatures, the tribe sent members their ballots along with the special election notice.

"All we're trying to do is give everybody in the tribe $6,000 instead of having the casino," he said, referring to the petition that opposes the casino.

Under the Tribal Council's referendum, officials would distribute $17 million from the settlement to individual members. Those 60 and older would receive $4,500. Tribal members between 18 and 59 would receive $3,500. For all minors, $1,000 would be placed in an irrevocable trust and distributed to them when they turned 18.

The group's petition proposes disbursing $6,000 to each tribal member age 18 and over, while minors would receive $1,000 each.

The hotel-casino would consist of a 60-room Holiday Inn Express and a casino with 125 machines, according to O'Rourke. The facility would sit across from the Yurok Tribe's headquarters on Klamath Boulevard. According to O'Rourke's letter, the hotel-casino is expected to earn a $9.2 million profit in five years and create nearly 100 new jobs.

The tribe hired Klas Robinson Hospitality and PFK Consulting and Hospitality Research and completed a feasibility study for the casino and the hotel. According to O'Rourke's letter, PFK Consulting and Hospitality predicts the tribe's hotel would have a 68 percent annual occupancy rate.

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