Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 20, 2009

Tribal member seeks part-time council

Barrientoz says move would save $1M a year

PESHAWBESTOWN -- Jaime Barrientoz no longer wants to worry about his local American Indian tribe's financial struggles.

So he submitted an initiative this week that would transition nearly every member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians' Tribal Council from full- to part-time status.

"I think that they have too much time on their hands," said Barrientoz, 37, of Traverse City. "Put them back to part time and you'd save about $1 million a year."

The initiative proposes that Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey remain full time, but the other six council members would transition to part-time status.

Barrientoz plans to present his initiative to council members at a Nov. 25 tribal session. Council members then will have 14 days to recommend any changes to the initiative.

"In that time period, the council may have an issue over whether this is appropriate," said John Petoskey, the band's general counsel.

If Barrientoz fails to receive enough support to get his initiative on the tribe's May 2010 election ballot, "nothing would prevent me from doing it again," he said.

He served on the tribal council from 1997 to 2002, but was considered part-time his first year. Barrientoz received a $100 stipend for each meeting he attended, and did not receive health care benefits.

Council members were moved to full-time status in 1998 because their "job was so comprehensive," Petoskey said.

The transition to full-time resulted in an increased salary and health care benefits for council members, Barrientoz said.

Barrientoz said the band was able to shift council members to full-time in 1998 because of revenue spikes, but his workload never increased.

But gaming revenues are in decline, and the band has been forced to make extensive budget cuts.

Those cuts resulted in reduced health care benefits for some tribal members. Tribal law also required council members to take 10 percent and 20 percent pay cuts.

By switching back to a stipend payment plan, Barrientoz said the band could avoid further cuts.

"Money needs to be saved for these tough economic times," he said.

Bailey and other council members did not return calls for comment.

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