GTB Eliminates General Counsel Position

We agree with John Wernet.

From the Record-Eagle:

Published: February 03, 2010 08:05 am

Longtime GT Band attorney let go


SUTTONS BAY — The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians cut ties with longtime legal counsel John Petoskey.

The band’s Tribal Council on Monday voted to “restructure” its legal department and make its general counsel a contracted position. The move effectively ended Petoskey’s 23-year tenure with the band.

“They said it was a restructuring, but in my view it wasn’t a restructuring,” Petoskey said Tuesday. “They wanted to get rid of me.”

The move was approved with votes from tribal councilors Sandra Witherspoon, David Arroyo and Rebecca Woods. Councilor Sandy Anderson abstained, and council members Brian Napont and Connie TwoCrow were absent.

Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey only votes to break a tie on the council, and declined comment Tuesday on the council’s decision.

“For me, the vote has been made,” Bailey said. “The action has been put in place.”

Petoskey said the decision was discussed in a closed session Monday that he did not attend. He informed other tribal staff of the move in an e-mail Monday afternoon.

“I have been dismissed by the Council with notice that my last day is Feb. 28,” Petoskey said in the brief note. He asked for any pending legal matters to be forwarded to the band’s legal department to assure a “smooth transition” to a new staff.

Petoskey described a deteriorating relationship with the tribal council in recent months. He would not cite specifics because of his attorney-client relationship with the council, but said he witnessed an increasing number of closed sessions on various topics. He said he urged officials to be more open and transparent.

“We had real differences of opinion on how the council elected to do things … it was not advice that was accepted,” Petoskey said. “As far as I know, it’s not an example of (me) doing something wrong.”

Petoskey said his annual salary is just over $100,000, but doubts the band will realize any cost savings by shifting to contracted legal help.

“A contract attorney is going to cost much more than the work that I do,” he said.

John Wernet, deputy legal counsel for Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her liaison to Michigan’s Indian tribes, described Petoskey as “one of the most-respected tribal attorneys in the country.”

“I have the utmost respect for his knowledge, ability and integrity,” Wernet said.

Petoskey said he enjoyed his career working for the band. It evolved from a small Indian tribe that operated on a shoestring budget for years after its federal recognition in 1980 to a major economic powerhouse and employer in northern Michigan that runs two casinos and the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

“It’s certainly been rewarding,” Petoskey said. “I’m from here, I spent my whole life working here.

“Years ago the band was nothing. Now it’s something,” he said.

One thought on “GTB Eliminates General Counsel Position

  1. Craig W Elhart February 4, 2010 / 7:55 pm

    John Petoskey has one of the best legal minds that I have seen. What he has given to the Grand Traverse Band can not be measured. History has been written by John. The Grand Traverse Band will suffer at his loss.

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