Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

June 21, 2013

Fired tribal members may regain jobs

PESHAWBESTOWN — An attorney for six fired tribal employees said they will be reinstated, but none of the ex-employees have heard official word they’ll be back on the job.

Brett Fessell, a former fish and wildlife coordinator for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, said the confusion doesn’t surprise him.

“It’s a roller coaster,” he said. “Probably the best one in the world.”

The six Natural Resources Department employees were fired for shooting a .22 rifle off their office building’s back deck on a cold day in March. They aimed at targets set on a snowy, empty beach of West Grand Traverse Bay.

“It was clear that the tribal manager didn’t know all the facts prior to the termination,” said Traverse City attorney Craig Elhart, who represented the fired employees. “I made a proposal to the tribe that they be reinstated and have two weeks of unpaid leave. As I understand it, it was approved by the tribal council Wednesday. We are now finalizing issues of compensation.”

Officials from the Grand Traverse Band did not return calls for comment, but tribal Chairman Al Pedwaydon wrote an email to the Record-Eagle. It said the tribal council authorized reinstatement, but with no back pay.

“Our General Council was to make the offer,” his email said.

Elhart’s understanding was the employees would receive full back pay, minus two weeks.

The band held a lengthy appeals hearing this week at the Medicine Lodge. It included Elhart, the tribal manager, two tribal attorneys, the fired employees, and Ellen Ance, the human resources director at the time the employees were suspended. James McCormack, a former 13th Circuit Court judge, presided over the hearing.

Fired employee Desmond Berry said the apparent return-to-work decision is good news, but added he hasn’t heard from the tribe.

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