1996 Seperation Pay by Wilma P. Mankiller

The Cherokee Observer obtained a copy of this  August 1995 letter from Wilma Mankiller with her explanation to the Tribal Council of separation pay given to employees who resigned when Joe Byrd became Chief.
To:  1995-1999 Tribal Council
From:   Wilma Mankiller
Re:  Separation Pay
Date:   August 12, 1995
In my earlier memorandum to you, I indicated that 8 senior level employees had resigned.  Don Vaughn and George Long later rescinded their resignation.  I telephoned Jiggs Phillips to ask him to speak with Don Vaughn and George Long to request they stay with the Cherokee Nation.  I also asked Pat Ragsdale, Greg Pitcher and Troy Poteete to speak with them.

In the end, six senior employees resigned, five of whom were regular career employees of the Cherokee Nation and the 6th, Lee Fleming, was a political appointee.

(1)  Gwen Grayson (1977-1995), non-Indian married to a full blood; last position, Executive Director, Community Development

(2)  Lynn Howard (1983-1995), non-Indian, son Marsh is a Cherokee voter; last position, Director of Communications

(3)  Lee Fleming, Registrar (1982-1995), Cherokee

(4)  Pam Iron (1989-1995), Cherokee, Executive Director of Health Services

(5)  Alan Harder (1988-1995), Cherokee, Executive Director of Human Resources

(6)  Rhonda Clemons (1992-1995), Cherokee, Director of Economic Development.

All of the above employees resigned because they felt they would be terminated, an assessment that I agree with.
Right after the run-off election a representative from the Byrd transition team indicated to the senior staff that all executive level personnel would be asked to submit their resignations and Mr. Byrd would decide who would stay and who would go.  They have now backtracked and say their statements were misinterpreted.

In addition to the statement above, there is significant documentation of Mr. Byrd’s intent to replace some of the above individuals including recorded comments at public meetings and widely distributed newspaper interviews.
See in particular the Tulsa World article dated Sunday, August 6, 1995.

Separation [sic] pay for all six of the above employees was justified. They all receive 9 pay periods of separation pay.

There is ample precedent for separation payments.  Just to name a few who were given separation pay – Bob Carlile, Scott Gregory, Jewell Morris, Jim Wilson and Bill Murphy and on and on and on.  Of the senior staff receiving separation pay the only “change in administration” resignation involving separation pay is that of Dora Mae Watie’s resignation in August, 1987.  1 authorized separation pay for Ms. Watie from early August, 1987 to December, 1977.
That is roughly comparable to the current “change in administration” resignations.


         August 1, 1995

Resignation of Tommy Thompson President and Chief Executive
Officer – Bingo Outpost

Tommy Thompson, CPA, offered to resign from his position as
primary oversight person for the Bingo Outpost operation.
It was the opinion of the two Council representatives to the
Board that the Byrd people did not want Mr. Thompson to
remain on the Board.  Earlier, Garland Eagle, Deputy Chief
elect, approached Chairman Pitcher and asked when Tommy
Thompson was leaving.  They described Tommy Thompson as a
“lightening rod” for criticism.  The resignation then was
more like a mutually agreed upon termination than a straight

Tommy Thompson’s contract called for a year’s severance pay
which the Board agreed to honor.

Mr. Thompson conceptualized the Bingo Outpost projects,
oversaw the actual construction of the facilities, put
together the financing, staffing and management systems and
oversaw the administration of the Outpost facilities.  The
operations are highly competitive and profitable.

In addition to the Bingo Outpost Board of Directors, the
Outpost is monitored by the Cherokee Nation Gaming
Commission which is composed of Larry Adair, Martha Vaughn
and Bill Langley, all members of the cherokee Nation.  They
are, in turn, monitored by the National Indian Gaming

A copy of the latest financial report is attached.

Monday, August 7, 1995

Resignations of Rick Smith,  Bingo Outpost General Manager
Greg  Stice,  Neva White and Cindy  Bunn,  Assistant Managers

After the August 1st resignation of Tommy Thompson, Chairman
Pitcher spoke with Joe Byrd about Tommy Thompson’s
resignation.  Mr. Byrd indicated that he definitely did not
want Mr. Smith to remain employed with the Outpost.

About 10% of the employees of the Roland Bingo Outpost
facility are close relatives of Mr. Byrd.  They made it
quite clear that Mr. Smith would be replaced.

On the recommendation of the outgoing President of Bingo
Outpost, Tommy Thompson, it was decided that Mr. Smith would
receive seven month’s separation pay and would remain with
the Outpost until Monday, August 14, 1995 when Chief
Mankiller’s term expired.

The Board agreed to provide separation packages for three
senior members of the Thompson/Smith Management team – Neva
White, Greg Stice and Cindy Bunn if they chose termination
as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 1995

Mr. Cantrell  Bingo Outpost Administrator’s Actions

On the morning of August 9th, Mr. Cantrell met with a
representative of Joe Byrd.  Shortly thereafter, Mr.
Cantrell called the security offices in all three Outpost
operations, informed them that Rick Smith, General Manager,
had resigned and told them he was not to be allowed on the
property of any Bingo Outpost operation.  When questioned
about which authority he was citing to make this demand, he
replied that he “read it in the Muskogee Phoenix.”  (In a
subsequent newspaper interview, Joe Byrd admitted giving Mr.
Cantrell orders.)

Tommy Thompson submitted necessary paperwork to process
separation pay for Rick Smith and the other three employees
to the Bingo Outpost Corporate Human Resources office.

Beginning of Joe Byrd’s Direct Interference

Though Joe Byrd was not on the Bingo Outpost Board and was
not sworn in yet, when he was informed that the paperwork
was being submitted to process the terminations and
separation pay Mr. Byrd called Greg Pitcher and asked him to
stop payment of the separation payments.

Meanwhile, Tommy Thompson called Chairman Greg Pitcher and
informed him of the Mr. Cantrell’s directive to lock out
Rick Smith if he tried to enter the Outpost Halls.  Greg
called Mr. Cantrell and asked him to retract the order to
lock out Rick Smith.

Mr. Cantrell, at the request of Joe Byrd, ordered the locks
changed on the Corporate offices as well.  Mr. Cantrell did
not issue keys to staff who previously possessed keys.  Only
Mr. Cantrell knows who has the keys.

They then locked the Corporate Office and closed it for the
day.  According to a staff member, Mr. Cantrell told all the
staff who had the capability of running the computer that if
they feared for their lives they could leave and not come
back today.

Thursday, August 10, 1995

Joe Byrd’s Increased Interference

I returned a call from Jim Wilcoxen on the morning of
Thursday, August 10th.   In the course of the conversation
he mentioned that he had spoken with Greg Pitcher about the
Bingo Outpost.  Greg Pitcher indicated there was some
concern about the security of the Bingo halls this week-end.
Wilcoxen then apparently called up Coopers & Lybrand to ask
if they could monitor all three halls over the week-end.
Coopers & Lybrand informed him that it would cost a great
deal to monitor the halls all week-end.  At no time did Mr.
Wilcoxen mention any problem or concern with the employees
receiving separation pay.

I told Mr. Wilcoxen that I thought he should have
discussed this idea with the Bingo Outpost Board before
asking the auditors to monitor the Outpost operations over
the week-end.  I also told him I thought it was a bad idea
to announce to the employees that they would be monitored
all week-end by Coopers & Lybrand.

The Wilcoxen concern seemed to be related to having
Rick Smith and Tommy Thompson working through the week-end.
I thought the concern could be addressed another way.  I
proposed that Rick Smith and the other terminated employees
clear their desks and be out by August 10, 1995 at 5:00 and
that former Outpost employee and internal auditor Jody Reece
be appointed to head up the Bingo Outpost operation until
other management arrangements are made by the Byrd people.

Since Outpost employees have to be licensed by the
Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission, and Jody Reece was a
former employee, he appeared to be the most logical choice.

Agreement with Joe Byrd

I then spoke with Greg Pitcher about this plan.  He
said he needed to speak with Joe Byrd.  Mr. Byrd did not
take charge until Monday at noon but I agreed to wait for
Mr. Pitcher to speak with Byrd and call me back.  At first
Byrd apparently wanted to get Buddy Holt’s concurrence then
finally agreed to Jody Reece’s appointment.

Chairman Pitcher called back and said Byrd explained
that some of his supporters thought Rick Smith and Tommy
Thompson would jam up the computers, haul off money and
disrupt the Bingo Outpost operation over the week-end.  Why
Byrd thought Rick Smith, the General Manager and Tommy
Thompson, the President, an employee with a relationship to
the Cherokee Nation dating back to Bill Keeler would jam up
the computers is a mystery to me.

I drafted a notice for Greg Pitcher to send to all
three Outpost operations notifying them of the departure of
the four employees and the assignment of Jody Reece to
oversee operations.

I then called Tommy Thompson and told him to inform
Rick Smith and the other three terminated employees that
they should leave their posts at 5:00 P.M. on August 10,
1995 and that they would be paid their separation and
vacation pay immediately.

It was all set for a smooth transition that everybody
agreed to.

Deputy Chief Ketcher’s efforts

Tommy Thompson called Chairman Pitcher and informed him
that Deputy Chief John Ketcher would be bringing check
requests for the terminated employees.  He asked Chairman
Pitcher to ask Mr. Cantrell to respect Deputy Chief John
Ketcher and process the checks.

Deputy Chief John Ketcher then took the employee action
notices and the Board resolution to Stilwell to the Bingo
Outpost Corporate offices with the intent of picking up the
checks for the terminated employees.  He was told there was
no one there to process the checks.  They had suddenly
become unavailable.

Mr. Ketcher waited for an hour and a half for someone
to become available so the checks could be processed.  No
effort was made by Mr. Cantrell or other staff to locate
someone to process the checks.  Even after Mr. Ketcher left
the corporate office at 2:00 P.M. no effort was made by
staff to follow the directive of the Outpost Board.

By now I was exhausted with trying to deal with Byrd’s
interference and get the employees paid and on their way.
Chairman Pitcher at my request then negotiated an agreement
with Mr. Byrd that stipulated the terminated staff would
leave at 5:00 P.M. Thursday, August 10, 1995 in exchange for
being paid their severance pay.  This agreement was made at
3:00 P.M.  We gave the employees very little notice by
asking them to leave by 5:00 P.M.

 Reneging of the Joe Byrd Agreement

Shortly after 5:00 P.M. Jody Reece received a call from
Joe Byrd who apparently had a stunning reversal of opinion.
He instructed Jody Reece not to pay the employees their
severance and described their departure as a “walk out”
rather than an agreed upon time of departure.  He said this
was based on advice from Jim Wilcoxen but did not elaborate.

Right after his call from Mr. Byrd, I spoke with Jody
Reece by telephone.  He asked for advice.  He was in a tough
spot.  The soon to be Chief, Joe Byrd, had asked him to
disobey a directive from the current Chief.  I told him that
we had a Bingo Outpost Board Resolution approving the
termination and separation pay for of Rick Smith and the
other three employees and until that changed he should

Jody Reece then asked if John Ketcher and I could meet
him at the Bingo Outpost to sign the severance checks at
7:30 P.M.  Jody then called Mr. Cantrell at 4:50 P.M. and
asked him to wait at the Corporate office.  He told him he
would be there at 5:30 P.M.   Mr. Reece’s request was
ignored.  All employees were gone at 5:10 P.M.  When Jody
arrived at the Corporate office, it was locked.   Jody Reece
made repeated calls to Mr. Cantrell’s house and was told
that Mr. Cantrell was not available.

For the second time in one day, the Deputy Chief had
been to Stilwell trying to complete the termination
paperwork and separation payments to four employees.  In
essence he and our internal auditor, Jody Reece, were locked
out of the Bingo Outpost corporate offices under Joe Byrd’s

Joe Byrd has travelled with body guards for the past
few weeks.  One of his “guards” was posted at the Bingo
Outpost Corporate offices at about 7:30 P.M.  As Brenda
Thompson, Tommy Thompson’s wife, left their CPA office,
which is just down the street from the Bingo Outpost
Corporate office, the goon in the truck sped around the
corner and blocked the alley, momentarily blocking her way
out of their parking lot.  He then pulled past the drive and
sat there in the alley for a while.  He later resumed his
position in front of Thompson’s office watching both the
front and side door.  Tommy Thompson called the police.  The
man identified himself as Raymond Mayes and said he was
instructed by “Chief Joe Byrd” to guard the Bingo Outpost
Corporate offices.  As it turned out he was “guarding” Tommy
Thompson’s CPA office instead of the Corporate office.  He
later moved up by the Corporate offices and about 1:30 A.M.
he was joined by Deputy Chief elect Garland Eagle and a
local man named Tiny Fourkiller.

Tommy Thompson remained in his office working on tax
extensions for various clients.  At about 1:30 A.M. as he
prepared to leave his office he noted that Mr. Hayes had
been joined by Deputy Chief elect Garland Eagle and a local
man named Tiny Fourkiller.

When Tommy informed me of the above events, I then
called Greg Pitcher and asked him to get Joe Byrd to stop
all this.

August 11, 1995

Deputy Chief John Ketcher and I went to BancFirst in
Tahlequah and made the appropriate arrangements so the
employees could be paid.

August 11, 1995

The Cherokee Nation employees who received severance
pay received messages from Jim Wilcoxen indicating that they
should return their separation pay checks.  By the time they
received notice, all six former Cherokee Nation employees
had cashed their separation checks and the Bingo Outpost
employees had been paid by Cashier’s check.