By Nick Sortal
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is considering conducting yet another election to select a chairman, after members complained that the winner of an Oct. 31 vote did not meet residency requirements.
The tribe’s board of directors ousted chairman James Billie on Sept. 28, after a recall petition and vote by the board. A month later, Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. won the election to be chairman.
But now the tribal council might void the election. Seminole rules require office-holders to reside on one of the tribe’s reservations. Osceola owns a home on the Hollywood reservation, but it was undergoing repairs for mold damage and he has been living elsewhere.
A statement from the tribe read: “As a result of meetings open to all members of the Seminole Tribe, some of whom have challenged the election outcome based on a Reservation residency requirement, the Tribal Council is expected to further consider the situation later this week. Additional public information will be provided, as it becomes available.”
Osceola, 44, had garnered 319 votes to Billie’s 297 on Oct. 31. Billie was allowed to run because tribal rules allow an ousted person to run for office. The petition against Billie cited “various issues with policies and procedures.”
Billie was vying to be voted chairman a third time. He served as chairman from 1979-2001, when he was impeached after charges of financial mismanagement and sexual harassment. He again won election in 2011 to the chairmanship and was re-elected in May 2015, defeating Osceola 45 percent to 39 percent, with three other challengers sharing the remainder of the votes.
The tribal council handles all Seminole affairs, including selecting executives to oversee their seven casinos, which garner more than $2 billion annually. That revenue is shared among the tribe’s 4,000 members. Those familiar with the situation say the selection of a chairman likely will not affect gambling decisions, which are overseen by Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen.
Through Allen, the tribe has been negotiating with the state to extend an agreement that allowed the Seminoles to offer blackjack and other table games. The agreement expired in July 2015. But a court case last week ruled that the state of Florida, by allowing “designated player” games in poker rooms, encroached on the portion of the agreement that gave the tribe exclusive rights to table games, and that ruling allows the tribe to legally offer blackjack through 2030.