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Making tough decisions, by the book

Tony SanchezEvery decision we make as leaders of today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida is distinguished by a single, common characteristic: the desire of this administration to be different and conduct our business by the book. This, of course, has led us to make some very tough decisions, some involving longstanding programs and ways of doing business, others impacting valuable people who have been here a long, long time.

Hopefully, those persons who have been directly affected would understand that if this were their personal business, chances are they would find themselves making the same decision. It’s important to realize these decisions are absolutely not personal. Please understand: the Tribe is very thankful for individual contributions toward the growth and success of the Seminole Tribe today. We try to show that with our benefits package. We strive to make sure everyone is treated like family. Our goal has always been to go above and beyond in the way we treat staff.

We all must consider, however, the particular circumstances we share here. This administration has really had to take a real close look at how this Tribe was operating. And we soon realized we had to make decisions beyond just tomorrow. Tomorrow can mean 10 years from now, 20 years from now…We are in a different mindset now. So if you are one of the unfortunate ones, the casualties among us who could not survive, as before, within the new system and you had to leave, please understand it is not personal.

Believe me, I have had this conversation several times. When I walk in to see someone and HR is tagging along with me, it is usually not a good sign. But if I am not willing to make these decisions, then I’m not doing the Tribe any good. These sorts of decisions, no matter how bad they make me feel emotionally, are a normal course of business in a healthy, progressive company. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Such personnel actions are definitely the most unpleasant tasks I have had to carry out during my time in this position. I always try, no matter what, to treat the individual with a level of respect and dignity.

I hope Seminole people can find comfort in knowing that this administration is doing what it said it would do before the election. I know I sound like a broken record, but to bring this Tribe back up to full operating capacity as a successful business for our shareholders, we have to make often unpopular, always tough decisions.

Remember, we are enjoying the fruits of the labor from those who came before us: our first leaders, the framers of the Seminole Constitution, the leaders of The Seminole Wars; because of their difficult decisions, the battles they fought and the way they overcame their casualties and hard times, we are now enjoying the benefits of their leadership and foresight. I don’t know how long the man upstairs will permit me to be around. Hopefully, it will be long enough to actually see the eventual fruits of our hard labor today.

To achieve that requires us to make some uncomfortable and unpopular decisions, not just with personnel, but with programs, budgets, business relationships – everything is entwined. Just as the world is changing, we have to change along with it. If we don’t, we’ll be forced into making drastic changes that will create ever more turmoil within the Tribe. What we must do now is keep making subtle changes when required and keep everyone informed. We must make changes that we, the great majority of us, can live with to make sure the future remains solid for the Seminole Tribe.

Politics is not and should not have anything to do with any of these decisions. I don’t think anyone in this administration – Council or Board – worries about how their decisions made today will affect their future in politics. If we allow politics to enter into the equation, we will start compromising ourselves, and that is not what the people deserve. They must demand the most honest representation this government can give them.

I believe people appreciate our honesty. I believe they understand these changes we are making; these decisions affect us also. When our financial situation forces us to declare that there will be no assistance, that is across the board, affecting everyone. I know there are people who think, “Oh yeah, but you guys get it.” No way. There will never be two sets of rules. It’s not like that. Such a decision affects me, my family, all of our families just the same.

No one should be surprised. We all campaigned this way. I realize there are people who said, “Sure, he sounds good now, but wait until he gets back into office.” It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen. Take a look at the world I came here from: the casino world – especially the Indian casino world – the most regulated industry anywhere. You got a thousand cameras on you every day, audits being conducted several times a year – you have the State, the Feds, the National Indian Gaming Commission – watching your every move. I worked in that world three months shy of 12 years.

Do you think that now, all of a sudden when there are no cameras on me everywhere, that I am going to change? No way. I understand what the rules are, and I am going to follow the rules. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and, no matter how much it hurts, we have to choose the right way. It’s the best way, the only way, in the long run.

When I heard the casino bill had been withdrawn from consideration this legislative session, I thought, “Now we can take a break. The pressure is off.” Then I realized we actually have to get right back at it. It’s not going to go away. We won one battle, but not the war. There will be another battle tomorrow. There is a whole army of people out there burning the midnight oil, trying to find a way. We must be prepared: What are we willing to give up to protect our market?

So we will have to go to Tallahassee and break bread again with Gov. Scott and find out how we can protect our Compact from the coming attacks. He knows full well that we are committed to this Compact, and not only in concept. We have lived up to our agreement financially. And we remain current. When others come knocking on his door making promises and flashing surveys, he must look at us as a proven commodity. When he and the Legislature consider Seminole Indian gaming, they know exactly what the state is getting.

The state is getting jobs. And money to use in reducing the state budget woes. These are the two main components in Gov. Scott’s platform. Yes, we’ll be knocking on his door after the session is ended. We want to ask him, “Why gamble on gaming when you got a sure thing?”

Of course, I recognize that our situation could change overnight, just like that! You have to learn to be realistic. This world is full of Indian treaties that have been broken. You see them on the walls of every museum. You have to learn to be humble. You have to learn faith. I embrace it. I cherish the faith I have. It gives me confidence walking through a world that could change overnight. The guy I have been the past 53 years will be the same guy for the next 53 years, God willing.

I am not only speaking for myself, but for this whole administration. I am very confident they share my comments here. I am very confident they want to do the right thing, good things for everyone. I don’t think any of us is what you might call overly religious, but believe me, at some point every day I say my little prayer for guidance and help on making these difficult, unpopular decisions we all have to make.

I wish to ask every Tribal member to take a moment each day and say a prayer for this administration; pray that we stay strong and on the right path, each and every one of us. Your faith in our decisions is what will guide us.

Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.

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