Top Winnebago corporation execs reinstated 8-07

By Anna Jo Bratton
Omaha, Nebraska (AP) - The top two executives of a $100 million American Indian business were reinstated Thursday eight days after being suspended over a misunderstanding about discussing details of a U.S. military contract.

CEO Lance Morgan said the Ho-Chunk board of directors asked him for information about a contract, and he questioned whether he could legally provide it. The directors insisted, and after he refused they placed Morgan and chief operating officer Annette Hamilton on paid administrative leave.

Both he and the board said the disagreement was minor, and Morgan said he realized the board did not want the information he was concerned about providing.

“I really think we blew up an issue out of proportion,” Morgan said. “Sometimes tribes are like big families, and families have their ups and downs,” he said.

He would not provide details of the contract, and a spokeswoman for the company said she could not comment on the disagreement. Board members didn’t immediately return messages Thursday seeking comment.

Ho-Chunk – the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe – has 584 employees in eight states and Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan and has a number of federal contracts, including several for military projects.

For example, AllNative Solutions, a Ho-Chunk subsidiary that markets computer hardware and software, won a contract from Offutt Air Force Base in 2006. Other Ho-Chunk subsidiaries have contracts with the State Department to provide telecommunications support.

Morgan, a member of the tribe, returned to the reservation in 1994 to help build the corporation with $8 million in casino money.

Ho-Chunk posted revenues of $113 million in 2006, up from $22.9 million in 2000, and assets have grown to $42 million from $8 million. It recorded nearly $660,000 in net profits in 2006.

Morgan said his tendency to question what he is told to do contributed to this disagreement.

“I think the very qualities that make me a successful CEO in Indian Country get me in trouble,” he said.

Morgan graduated from Harvard Law School in 1993 and travels around the country to speak about Indian law and tribal economic development.

Morgan said he wasn’t sure why Hamilton also was suspended, but said he thought she had the same concerns he did. Attempts to reach Hamilton Thursday weren’t successful.

She handles much of Ho-Chunk’s day-to-day business. Hamilton is a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas.

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