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Internal dispute results in two tribal councils

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - An internal tribal dispute has culminated in the separate elections of two tribal councils amid a host of accusations and counteraccusations centering on a proposed casino development.

Seventy members of the Dry Creek Pomo tribe met at Healdsburg High School to support the current board. About 15 miles north of town, 67 members met on the tribe's reservation to remove that board and elect an interim council.

The 300-voting-member Dry Creek Pomo tribe is the latest to fall victim to tribal infighting in the wake of gaming. The faction that supports the board is trying to rescind an earlier agreement with Las Vegas developer Mark Advent, while the faction intent on removing the board supports Advent.

Both sides claim legal authority over the other. The board has its story and the interim council has theirs.

The board claims Advent is meddling in tribal business and has repeatedly delayed construction on a proposed casino for the reservation. An initial casino - slated to be more than 100,000 square feet and six stories high- was delayed because of time and cost concerns.

Federal and state environmental agencies balked at a second, scaled down proposal of relatively more modest proportions because they said it would adversely affect nearby Dry Creek.

A third proposal, allegedly pitched by Advent, was to build a temporary tent facility so machines would be installed in time to meet the May 15 deadline which has for all practical purposes since been extended. This was the date tribes which purchased gaming machine licenses were supposed to have machines operational.

The board also claim Advent has reneged on payments to third-party contractors and is openly trying to solicit another developer to come in.

"Basically he was supposed to have this project already finished, but after all this time and money, we have nothing," said Liz Elgin Derouen, a member of the board. "That's why we're looking for another developer."

She also said Advent is in violation of several federal Indian gaming laws. She cites Advent saying he would put up a casino regardless of who was in power. Derouen says this would be violation of tribal sovereignty and authority.

She added that Advent has tampered with the internal politics of the tribe and said she holds him personally responsible for the division within the tribe. She said he has created "dissension like we've never seen before."

One of the tragedies in the situation is that relatives are pitted against each other, since most tribal members have familial connections in a community that small. In this case Derouen is verbally sparring with her cousin, Tom Elgin, a physician and member of the interim council.

Elgin said he and Derouen grew up together and were very close but contended his views are "a complete 180 turn from hers (Derouen)." He said the problem is that the tribe already has an agreement with Advent who cannot be held personally responsible for delays caused by state agencies over construction of the casino.

Furthermore, Elgin said that to break the agreement with Advent would be a serious breech of promise case and that Advent already forked over considerable amounts of money to the tribe and the contractors.

"If anyone's causing dissension in the tribe, it's the board. We have an agreement and to break it after he (Advent) has spent all this money would quite plainly be illegal," Elgin said.

He said he feels members of the board want to consolidate secure positions for themselves in casino management and that under the terms of the Advent agreement they cannot. That is why, he said, he feels the board members are looking for another developer.

Among numerous other accusations members of the board are directing toward Advent is that he has held the casino water rights hostage.

During the initial phase of construction Advent promised to drill a well and build a sewage treatment plant.

The board now claims that Advent did not look for water on the reservation and bought an adjoining piece of property, known as the Dugan property, where a well was dug. Board members say Advent did this to hold the tribe hostage as he owned the water rights.

Both Advent and the interim council say they were lucky to buy the property, which sits closer to the Russian River water table than the higher situated reservation. They say that in the past 85 years tribal members were largely unsuccessful in their search for water as only a single well was found, producing a miniscule 25 gallons a minute, far less than that required to operate a full casino facility.

Advent is proceeding with his plans and held a job fair in early June to recruit potential employees for the casino. He insists he still has an agreement with the tribe and vows to move forward.

"Their (the board's) accusations are baffling to me. I've lent the tribe $10,000,000 and spent two years of my life working on this project. I find them (accusations) insulting," Advent said.

Both sides threaten legal action. Tribal chairman Michael Racho and Derouen have spoken to BIA officials, who they say, recognize the board as the tribal council.