PLEASANT POINT, Maine — Who is in charge now that Passamaquoddy tribal government on this reservation is limping along without most of its leadership?
That question remained unresolved Thursday after the Bangor Daily News learned that a tribal council meeting was begun, then canceled Tuesday because there were not enough elected officials in attendance. Tribal government consists of six councilors, a lieutenant governor and governor.
The BDN also learned Thursday that Gov. Rick Phillips-Doyle has been out of his office for several weeks because of health-related matters, and Lt. Gov. Thomas Lewey has been in and out of his office for days reportedly because of stress-related issues. Phillips-Doyle declined to comment Thursday, and Lewey could not be reached for comment.
Just recently, Councilors Dottie Barnes and Fred Francis resigned. Barnes declined to comment, and Francis did not return a telephone call Thursday.
There also were reports that two remaining councilors, Eddie Bassett and newly elected Fred “Moose” Moore, are about to be recalled, which both men denied Thursday.
Two other councilors, Christine Downing and Darren Paul, remain in office.
Although most of the people involved either declined to comment or did not return calls Thursday, Councilor Bassett confirmed that Phillips-Doyle was out on medical leave. As for the lieutenant governor, he said he did not know the cause of his absences, but confirmed that he has been “in and out” of the tribal office. He said that Barnes and Francis resigned for “personal reasons.”
Moore confirmed that Barnes and Francis had resigned, but also declined to say why. “That is a purely personal decision on the part of those members. Their privacy needs to be respected, because these are internal tribal political matters,” Moore said.
Like Bassett, Moore, who was elected to the tribal council in September, declined to talk about the status of the governor and lieutenant governor.
Now it is up to tribal government to replace Barnes and Francis. In the past, the council would set a date for an election, but efforts to replace the two ran into problems at the Tuesday night tribal council meeting. In order to hold a meeting, the tribe’s constitution says, four councilors and one chairperson are required. Although there were four councilors in attendance and they had a legal opinion that said they could hold the regular scheduled tribal council meeting, they did not.
“We had a quorum, but because there was no [chairperson] it was decided by the council and by the people in the audience that probably the best thing was not to hold a meeting without a chair,” Bassett said.
Bassett anticipates a meeting will be held next week because people on the reservation expect tribal government to operate.
Addressing the alleged recall petition, Bassett and Moore said they were unaware of any such effort.
“When it comes to my actions, I am going to be fully accountable for everything that I have done,” Bassett said. “If people want to recall me that is their prerogative, but I am going to make sure people understand everything that I have done in terms of my actions as a council member.”
Bassett, who several years ago served as lieutenant governor, said he plans to take his message to the reservation’s closed-circuit tribal television. He did not elaborate on what his message would be. “Everything I am doing is to help the people. I work for the people, fight for the people. So if the people want me out, so be it; if they want me in, so be it,” he said.
Asked if a BDN reporter could sit inside the studio and watch, he declined. “It is an internal tribal matter,” he said. Asked if a tribal member invited the reporter to a private home to watch, Bassett said he could not stop that.
Moore said if there were a recall petition in the works, he would welcome the scrutiny of his action. “I have complete confidence that tribal members will stand by their convictions in the selection of their leaders,” he said.
Moore blamed the controversy on small-town politics and a breakdown in communication. “Unfortunately, communication between governments and people is oftentimes through rumor and innuendo, and that form of communication is not only divisive but also destructive,” he said. Eventually, he said, the facts would come out.
He blamed any petition efforts on those who were not in power. “It is politics and it is being generated by people who probably have some self-interest in effecting a change through an abrupt action such as that or attempting to effect policy decision through the dissemination of rumor, fear and innuendo,” he said. He did not elaborate. “Unfortunately there are elements in the tribe and within any community who feel threatened by change,” he said.
Bassett said it was unfortunate there was so much turmoil on the reservation. He said he wished only to bring “good things” to his community. “People need something to hope for,” he said.