Leech Lake Tribal Council members vote to fire legal director who was investigating them

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Legal Director Michael Garbow was put out of his job and locked out of his office Friday in a ruling by a faction of the Leech Lake Tribal Council.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Legal Director Michael Garbow was put out of his job and locked out of his office Friday in a ruling by a faction of the Leech Lake Tribal Council.

The special Tribal Council meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. in the Tribal Chambers, but held at 9 a.m. in District III Representative Donald "Mick" Finn's office. Tribal law requires 24-hour notice for the change of a meeting time or place.

In a five-minute meeting, Finn and Secretary-Treasurer Arthur "Archie" LaRose voted 2-0 to terminate Garbow as a Leech Lake employee. District II Representative Lyman Losh presided as acting chairman, who would only vote to break a tie.

Chairman George Goggleye Jr. and District I Representative Robbie Howe were not present at the meeting.

"After today, (Garbow) is no longer employed by Leech Lake," LaRose said following the meeting. "The decision of the meeting on behalf of the band members ... the majority of the Tribal Council terminated him on the basis of his past actions. ... Things can go back to normal now. I'm just glad this is all resolved. A lot of band members will be satisfied."


The meeting was the result of a petition signed by 50 band members. LaRose had attempted to add Garbow's termination to the Jan. 4 Tribal Council first-quarter meeting. Goggleye didn't accept the addition and pointed out that tribal policies don't allow band members to petition for removal of an employee, although they can petition for a special meeting. Garbow added that only eligible resident tribal members can sign a petition, and the special meeting signatures had not been verified.

Three Tribal Council members make up a quorum for most business, according to the constitution, but Leech Lake Executive Director Rodney White said the personnel manual had been amended to require a full five-member council to act on employee terminations.

"They quoted an outdated personnel policy," said Goggleye.

Garbow filed an amended complaint Sept. 7 in Leech Lake Tribal Court against LaRose for authorizing -- in 2003 with no other Tribal Council member's signature --about $45,000 worth of repairs to his mother's home.

Garbow also is pursuing a conflict-of-interest investigation into Finn's trucking company, which the attorney said did about $40,000 worth of hauling jobs for Leech Lake Gaming counter to tribal conflict-of-interest statutes.

LaRose said Garbow is an at-will employee, so the two Tribal Council members who voted for his termination don't have to give any reasons. However, LaRose said in a press release that Garbow had failed to seek full Tribal Council approval before launching the suit against him and investigation of Finn. LaRose said Garbow also issued unauthorized statements to local news media "trying a tribal court case in the media instead of the courtroom."

Garbow cited state and federal whistleblower protection laws that shield employees who bring up issues of misconduct in the workplace.

LaRose said there was no conflict of interest for him and Finn to vote to terminate the man who is investigating them. He also said he had to live with Tribal Council decisions when other members voted against him, and Garbow and Goggleye will have to abide by Friday's vote.


"Neither Finn nor LaRose should have participated in that vote," Goggleye said.

"The chairman and legal director have been telling the media what they want people to hear," LaRose said. "They haven't been telling people the whole story."

On Friday afternoon, a Leech Lake Tribal Police officer changed the locks on Garbow's office door.

"Now, Archie has access to all my confidential court documents against him," Garbow said. However, he and the chairman were later able to open the door with tools.

"What happened today is an injustice, a travesty," Goggleye said. "It's nothing less than we had three council members who called an illegal meeting."

He said he would direct tribal staff not to process any paperwork carried by Finn, LaRose or Losh.

"I will not allow any employee to be treated in this manner," Goggleye said. "If Tribal Council members do not follow the code of ethics, there are no laws. I'm not going to buckle. I'm not going to bend."

Former Leech Lake Chairman Eli Hunt, whose 2002 ousting was led by LaRose, took the secretary-treasurer's part Friday, saying Goggleye and Garbow caused him to be demoted from the tribal health director's position.


"To me, the average Joe, the average tribal member in the community, we're sick and tired of the fighting," Hunt said. "Right now, I don't feel good about what's happening with our government. People are afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs."

Mike Bongo, who intends to run for secretary-treasurer when LaRose runs for chairman in the spring elections, said he also wants a "kinder, gentler reservation."

"From my perspective, there's been a real lack of leadership in this whole process," Bongo said.

Goggleye agreed, although he said the Finn, LaRose and Losh faction are the council members who are failing to show leadership and are causing the dissension.

"It isn't about me," Goggleye said. "It isn't about Mike. It's about our people who want to come in and do their jobs and go home and take care of their families. When you believe in something so strongly, you have to stand up. If I don't take this stand today, I'll be betraying my children and my grandchildren."

What To Read Next
Get Local