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Allegations fly in White Earth: Tribal secretary-treasurer, chairman seek to oust each other

White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason. File photo1 / 2
White Earth Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts. File photo2 / 2

The White Earth secretary-treasurer and tribal chairman have filed charges against each other, seeking to have each other censured and removed from office.

White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason has accused Tribal Chairman Terry Tibbetts of wrongfully obtaining more than $63,000 from the tribe's general fund when he and two other council members left office in 2014.

The three former council members (Tibbetts, Robert Durant and Irene Auginaush) voted themselves about $300,000 before they left office after being defeated in the general election, Mason charged.

"They calculated and took from the general fund the employer-paid match for Social Security, which is 6.2 percent of wages," Mason said in an interview. That has caused hard feelings among tribal employees who would also like to receive such payments, Mason said. "White Earth does not pay out the employer match for Social Security—we are not paying out anyone their employer match—we pay that to the federal government, so there is a lot of concern here," she said.

Tibbetts did not answer his cell phone or respond to messages left on his cell phone over several days.

Mason made her censure motion at the Jan. 24 meeting of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Executive Committee in Grand Portage. At the same meeting, Tibbetts moved for a second time to censure Mason (the first one failed) this time over issues with a micro-loan program she funded for tribal members.

"I took my own money out of my own paycheck," to start the small loan fund, Mason said, "I've had people very grateful, because they didn't know where else to go," she said.

The program helps pay for things like roof repairs, auto repairs and inexpensive mobile homes—and also helps people get their driver's license reinstated.

"If you have a driver's license and have a job, you can take care of your house," she said.

The loans are interest-free, but donations to the loan pool are accepted.

Mason said she essentially decides who gets the loans, since it's her money, but the loan pool is administered by the White Earth tribal government, because she wants the program to continue after she leaves office.

She said Tibbetts liked the idea at first, and even referred constituents to it, but he wanted to know the names of the people who got loans and she wanted to keep the names confidential. She said Tibbetts grew to dislike the program and wanted it removed from the tribal finance office—and his signature removed from automated White Earth checks used by the program.

When that didn't happen, he accused Mason of forging his signature—some 80 times, since that's how many automated checks went out with his signature after he asked that it be removed on Dec. 4, according to Alan Roy, a Tibbetts ally who is running for tribal secretary treasurer.

Mason denied any act of forgery: "I never forged his signature," she said. "The signatures are automated on our checks—we have accounts payable (in the tribal business office) that takes care of that."

Mason said she levied the censure charges against Tibbetts to protect herself, after she heard he planned to hit her with another censure complaint at the Jan. 24 meeting. She had hoped they would be able to work together after an earlier attempt by Tibbetts to censure Mason failed in November, when the Minnesota Chippewa Tribal Executive Committee voted to exonerate her.

When she heard he was going to file censure charges again, "I threw this thing together to defend myself," she said.

Mason motioned to censure Tibbetts on charges that include malfeasance in handling of tribal affairs, dereliction or neglect of duty, and refusing to comply with any provisions of the Constitution or Bylaws of the Tribe.

The Tribal Executive Committee is made up of the chairman and secretary-treasurer of each of the six Chippewa bands that make up the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Mason's motion to censure Tibbetts was seconded by Mille Lacs Reservation Secretary-Treasurer Carolyn Beaulieu.

Tibbetts, in turn, motioned to censure Mason for refusing to comply with any provisions of the Constitution or Bylaws of the Tribe. His motion was seconded by Leech Lake Reservation Chairman Faron Jackson.

Both motions are now tabled until March 8, when a special Minnesota Chippewa Tribe meeting will be held in Mahnomen at the Shooting Star Casino Event Center.

After the evidence is presented and discussed, the Tribal Executive Committee will vote to exonerate or censure Mason and Tibbetts. If the TEC moves to censure either of them, authority will move to the White Earth Tribal Council, which can vote for a removal or recall election hearing.