Salt River tribe to have key election

Phoenix, Arizona (AP) September 2010

Members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community will vote for a tribal president during September in an election that will also gauge how they feel about a new casino resort and spring-training baseball complex.

Sterling Manuel Sr., one of three candidates challenging incumbent Diane Enos in the Sept 14the election said the tribe has turned over too many jobs to non-Indians and the Tribal Council approved the latest developments against the wishes of the people.

“Community members are saying we need change before it’s too late and we lose our community,” he told The Arizona Republic.

The agricultural community east of Scottsdale has just 5,400 eligible voters, but its profile in the Phoenix area has been growing despite the recession. In the past two years, Salt River has spent more than a half-billion dollars developing its 497-room Talking Stick Resort and Salt River Fields for the Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.

In her bid for a second term, Enos faces strong opposition from Manuel, along with chief tribal judge Delbert Ray Sr. and previous tribal president Joan Ramos. Enos beat Ramos 683-431 in September 2006.

Salt River voters also will choose a vice president, four council members and a new chief judge.

Enos, who served 16 years on the Tribal Council, said her administration, with a cohesive council, has provided economic stability. It has reduced the tribe’s budget by $13 million over the past three years and avoided layoffs by inducing 160 employees to take voluntary retirement packages, she said.

Enos said economic development is vital for continuing to provide services to members.

“Because of our location and the circumstances of our tax base, we have to become a player in the local economy,” she said.

In addition to its two casinos, Salt River relies on revenue from a cement plant, sand and gravel operations, and a landfill.

Manuel said Enos and the previous administration hired outsiders rather than qualified community members for important administrative jobs within tribal government.

“Contractors employ their own people,” he said. “We’re getting the ditch-digging part. That’s not right.”

Manuel, a case manager for the tribe’s Adult & Family Services, said the tribe’s per capita payments to adult members have been cut from $3,000 to $4,000 each to about $2,000 and may disappear next year until the loan is paid off for building the $440 million casino hotel.

Enos disputed that, saying the tribe paid off its Talking Stick construction loan in July and that former debt will not be a factor in the tribe’s per capita payments.

In fact, Enos said the payments have gone up each year she has been in office. She declined to give specifics, saying the financial information is closely held within the community for proprietary reasons.

She said the tribe is also on schedule to complete the $100 million baseball stadium and practice facilities by February.

Enos, who is paid $95,000 annually as president, said she is proud of her work to improve the tribal courts, protect children against violence and strengthen Salt River’s sovereignty.

“I feel good about what we’ve done,” she said.

Candidates Ray and Ramos did not respond to interview requests from The Arizona Republic.