The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is doing itself no favors by failing to be forthcoming about the challenges it faces. More access to information, not less, will provide both tribal members and the greater public more confidence about the ability of leadership to handle those challenges.
The Day this week reported that former tribal Chairman Michael Thomas, council Treasurer Steven Thomas (the two are brothers) and tribal member Stewart Sebastian have been notified they are targets of an FBI investigation. The tribe has chosen not to comment to Day reporter Brian Hallenbeck, who broke the story. That's their right, but it is a bad strategy.
What good purpose does such an approach serve? Silence feeds doubts and suspicions. It allows rumor and speculation to fill the void.
In an effort to reassure tribal members, the tribal council did send an email to them. It acknowledges "a federal inquiry into the alleged activities of several individual Tribal Members." It pledges the council's full cooperation with investigators.
"We need to make it very clear that neither the Tribe itself nor its gaming and government enterprises are targets of the inquiry," states the email.
Why the keep-it-in-the-family approach? The tribe operates among the biggest casinos in the world. Foxwoods Resort Casino is among the state's largest employers. Its fate and affairs are closely tied to the greater public. Attempts by tribal leaders to insulate the tribe when the news is bad, while expecting to benefit from maintaining a high profile as a gaming enterprise, will prove a counterproductive attempt to have it both ways.
The tribe should have provided the same explanations to the news media that it gave tribal members - the tribe is cooperating and neither it nor its casino are the target of the inquiry. Instead the explanation leaked out.
Also disturbing is the report of tribal police leading an Associated Press reporter off the reservation for trying to talk to tribal members. Members are advised to refer media inquiries to the tribe's public relations office. Can you imagine the outcry if any municipality instructed citizens not to talk to reporters, but refer them to City Hall?
Tribal leaders should have more respect for the members.