HOLLYWOOD — Serving as chairman was never on Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.’s bucket list, but the new chairman of the Seminole Tribe is confident that he is more than capable of doing the job well.
Chairman Osceola got his start in politics after a conversation with an elected official that didn’t sit well with him. The conversation prompted him to take the initiative, so he ran for the Hollywood seat on the Board in 2003 and lost. He tried unsuccessfully again in 2005. The third time proved to be the charm as he won the Board seat in 2009 and followed that triumph by earning a seat on the Tribal Council in 2011. He returned to the Council in January when he was sworn in as chairman.
“I really didn’t know where I was going to end up,” C h a i r m a n Osceola said. “But I am humbled and honored by this opportunity.”
Public service in government has been part of the Osceola family for decades. The chairman’s grandfather Bill Osceola was the Tribe’s first elected president of the Board. Marcellus Osceola Sr., the chairman’s father, served as councilman from Hollywood in the 1970s and 80s.
An entrepreneur since the late 1990s, Chairman Osceola learned that the most important thing in life is to provide for his family, which he accomplished as a successful businessman. He ran a limousine company for 18 years, a lawn company for 12 years and, two years ago, he started a seafood company. He gave up those businesses to comply with the Council’s conflict of interest ordinance, a sacrifice he said his family made so he could serve.
“If the Tribe benefits, then my family does as well,” he said. “We are all in this together.”
Some goals for the new administration include looking at election ordinances to possibly include a primary election before the general election to assure the winner will have at least 50 percent of the votes. The chairman also wants to explore term limits.
“I don’t want to see anyone serve the Tribe forever and I don’t want to be here forever,” Chairman Osceola said. “We were under one generation of leadership for nearly 40 years, so of course things will be different. One of our biggest goals is to bring the Tribe together and communication is key.”
Chairman Osceola plans to have his administration look at constitutional revision and reform to introduce new opportunities. He would like to ensure that all elected officials serve the entire Tribe, not just their specific reservations.
“What’s done in Brighton, Big Cypress or Hollywood can affect someone living in California or even Hawaii. These are things I think about. We are here to serve everybody, not just one community,” he said.
Chairman Osceola also plans to look at existing programs to see where improvements can be made. The Tribe is about 4,117 strong now and growing at a rate of about 60 Tribal citizens annually.
“In 10 years we will have another 600 members and we have to be prepared with the addition of new revenue outside of gaming,” Chairman Osceola said. “We are more than capable of setting up multiple businesses that bring in $1 to $40 million annually. The home run that we hit with our casinos, those are going to be few and far between.”
Chairman Osceola wants to look into anything that is able to bring in new profits for the Tribe. Endeavors could include bottling the 40,000 gallons of treated, potable water that is routinely dumped when the water plants in Brighton and Big Cypress flush their lines daily. Brighton has already bottled some of the water and decorated them with colorful labels designed by Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students.
“You can drink it right out of the bottle,” Chairman Osceola said. “Who knows what extra dollars we can make instead of just dumping it on the ground?”
A 5, 10 or 20-year plan to guide the Tribe into the future and to be more financially responsible are also on the chairman’s to-do list.
“We have to be careful with our grandchildren’s money,” he said. “In 1957 they thought about us today. Now it’s our turn to think about them 50 years down the road. I believe what we do today won’t be felt for another four or five years; unfortunately people want a quick fix but we only have two years and five months.”
As for the upcoming Florida legislative session, which begins March 7, Chairman Osceola plans to negotiate in good faith with the state to get a new gaming compact approved and is hopeful it will happen. Chairman Osceola wants to get the word out that he is accessible on a regular basis, including through meetings, phone calls and community involvement.
“I envision a closer knit Tribe, like it used to be,” he said. “We were a lot closer then when we had nothing. That’s what I’d like to see come back. As leaders, we have to go out and get people together and try to enjoy ourselves in fellowship. God is first and foremost; it’s written on our logo. He is the reason why we’re here and why we do what we do. Without him, none of this would be possible.”
He realizes his work as chairman isn’t something he can do alone.
“It’s important people realize that communication is a two-way street,” he said. “It takes teamwork. Together we will get there. I didn’t get elected by myself; one vote didn’t get me here. It’s not about me; it’s about us, the Tribe, first and foremost.”