Shakeups continue at Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

BARAGA – The shakeup that began last month when new leaders on the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council eliminated the position of tribal CEO has continued, with numerous employees in both tribal government and tribal enterprises either leaving or being reassigned to new jobs.

At Saturday’s Tribal Council meeting, council Treasurer Eddy Edwards said that as much as $500,000 in annual payroll may have been eliminated by cutting positions and moving employees around, although Council President Donald Shalifoe Sr. said the number was likely closer to $250,000 during a Monday interview.

At the meeting, Shalifoe said that at least on the government side of operations, “nobody got fired or terminated, they were moved to other positions.” In the interview, he noted the CEO position and one assistant had been eliminated by the council. However, he indicated there could have been terminations in the casino, which he doesn’t oversee directly. One employee, he added, resigned due to health concerns.

One notable change was that of the Baraga Ojibwa Casino general manager, who was shifted to surveillance manager of the operation. The GM position is currently open and has been advertised in trade publications.

In the interview, Shalifoe said changes in the goverSment were necessary because of a belief among many tribal members that the government was stagnant, and that many employees whose jobs involved working with the public weren’t being as helpful as possible. Tribal members he met campaigning, he said, asked for new faces in those positions.

“That’s what I was asked to do by the KBIC during my campaign,” Shalifoe said. “So [those employees] were moved out of the public eye and we moved forward as a people.”

When the CEO’s position was eliminated at the Jan. 4 meeting, the council voted to give Shalifoe responsibility for direct oversight of the tribal government, and Edwards responsibility for the tribe’s business operations.

According to council member Jennifer Misegan, a resolution at a later January council meeting gave Shalifoe the power to hire, fire or move employees, without the due process or advertising of open positions that had been required previously.

Since then, “positions that were open weren’t advertised for, they were just filled,” she said. “This way not all tribal members had a fair chance to apply for openings.”

Council member Susan LaFernier, who works in accounting for the tribe, said in an interview that she was concerned the personnel changes may not have been in the tribe’s best interest.

“As far as I could tell, there were no problems dealing with the public with any of our employees,” she said, adding, “He stated that no employee lifestyles were changed. I don’t agree with that. People did not apply for the positions they’re in, and the majority of people transferred were happy in their previous jobs.”

LaFernier also questioned the cost savings Shalifoe and Edwards have cited. She said she’s requested a report on the changes and their budgetary effects from the treasurer, but that none has yet been forthcoming.

Misegan, who was transferred from her previous job as tribal enrollment director to a job at the tribal library, at the same wage, was also skeptical about the payroll savings, noting that some positions appear to have been created to accommodate transfers.

Overall, she said, “I don’t approve of the changes that have been made. They weren’t discussed with the entire council. Many of the departments were running fine, and long-term employees were replaced and sent to do other jobs they didn’t apply for.”

“The employees are bewildered about what could happen yet,” Misegan added.