By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
TULALIP — Come next month, for the first time in 15 years, Mel Sheldon Jr. will not be a member of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors.
Sheldon, who has served as chairman of the board for about five years, and board treasurer Chuck James, both failed to win re-election during Saturday’s annual tribal vote.
Herman Williams Sr., 85, and Les Parks, both former board members, are scheduled to be sworn in as board chairman and vice chairman, respectively, on April 5.
The Tulalip board of directors is the governing body for the tribes. Members are paid. They set policy, approve budgets, negotiate with other governments and monitor tribal enterprises, such as the Tulalip Resort and Quil Ceda Creek casinos.
Candidates do not run head-to-head but are elected based on total votes received from tribal members. Terms are for three years. Three of the seven board members were up for re-election this year — Glen Gobin, Sheldon and James. Gobin was the only one of the three elected to a new term.
The top three vote-getters in Saturday’s election were Parks with 406, Williams with 356 and Gobin with 310, according to TulalipNews.com. They were three of 23 candidates running, “by far the most we’ve ever had,” according to Parks.
Sheldon was fourth with 285 votes, while James was 10th with 135, according to the post.
Votes for board officers are taken separately once the members have been determined. Parks will take over as vice chairman from board member Deborah Parker, who has held the position for the past year. She remains on the board.
“The membership was ready for a change,” said Parks, 57, who previously served on the board for nine years ending in 2006.
“It had been several years since we had seen any change at the board level or the philosophical approach on how the board operates. I campaigned heavily on focusing on our youth and our elders, which has been a big part of our tribe.”
Parks owns and operates the Boom City Swap Meet and has catering and arcade businesses as well, all of which he’ll step away from to serve on the board, he said.
According to Parks, Williams still holds the record as the youngest Tulalip board member to serve, beginning in 1951 at age 22, and will be the oldest ever when he takes office next month.
Parks said Williams is declining to comment until he’s sworn in, but he authorized Parks to speak on his behalf.
“He wants to meet with the people before he makes his public statement,” Parks said.
In addition to the three board members-elect, the other members are Parker, Marie Zackuse, Marlin Fryberg Jr. and Theresa Sheldon.
Sheldon credited Williams and Parks with running strong campaigns, which, Sheldon said, stressed the theme of “bringing government closer to the people.”
Sheldon said he believed the government already was being run in that fashion, “but it sounds like our people wanted a higher level of accountability and a closer relationship with decision makers. I raise my hands up to our people and I respect and honor their decision to look at new leadership.”
Sheldon, 62, was a commercial fisherman before he was elected to the board in 1999. He said he’ll get back on the water and will consider consulting work, as well.
“I will support in any way I can, whether I’m on the board or not,” he said. “This has been one of the most wonderful times of my life, the most challenging and rewarding time. I’m excited for the future. I have options.”
James, 72, has served the past nine years on the board. He previously ran the Quil Ceda Creek Casino and was in charge of the Tulalip Resort Casino when it opened in 2004. Earlier, he was a sales manager for Bethlehem Steel and Birmingham Steel, he said.
“I heard some people were really looking for a change,” James said. “It’s always a little unnerving, because you never know what the moods and thinking of the tribe is. I guess there’ll always be competition out here for positions. It’s just politics in Indian country.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.