Two Petersburg Indian Association tribal council members presented testimony at the unemployment benefit hearing on Feb. 9 for employee Susan Harai showing their determination to resolve the financial crisis reported to them by Roads Director Susan Harai and bookkeeper Nicole Dean. Ultimately, distrust of tribal leadership along with failure to secure a new, outside auditor to look at the tribal books resulted in their resignations from the tribal council.
Jeanette Ness, former council secretary told the hearing officer, “We were trying to work with staff to remedy the financial crisis at hand.” At the October 9 meeting Administrator Will Ware was placed on probation because, “he needed to be given disciplinary action.”
When asked why, Ness responded that board members felt he had not communicated with the board. There were no profit and loss statements presented and the board had been taken by surprise concerning the tribal finances.
Ness testified that following days of discussions, “I got to the point I didn’t know who to trust anymore.
“More importantly, I lost confidence in our board chair Mr. Lopez and our tribal administrator Mr. Ware, and I just felt that I couldn’t continue being on the board,” Ness said.
When asked by the hearing officer why she lost trust in Mr. Lopez, Ness replied, “He was not controlling the meeting as he should, or as I felt they should have been handled.”
When asked if she concurred with Lopez on Mr. Ware being placed on probation, Ness said, “No, Mr. Ware should have been terminated.”
Ness related that in spring of 2011, Ms. Harai and Will Ware had taken the IRR books to Anchorage to show the Bureau of Indian Affairs their roads program, and there was a lot of praise given for PIA’s work. “Ms. Harai put a lot of time into the books,” Ness related.
Just prior to the closing arguments of the hearing, previous council member Brenda Norheim was called to testify. Norheim concurred with comments presented by Ness and told the hearing officer that she favored having an outside auditor to come in and look over everything regarding PIA finances.
She related her training at a Foraker Group training session that suggested board members should rotate auditors every two years so they don’t get too accustomed with those they are working for.
“Because of the severity or what was going on, we needed outside eyes,” Norheim testified.
In explaining why she resigned, Norheim told the hearing officer, “So much was going on from so many different angles. I didn’t know who to believe. I didn’t trust the administrator. Transparency wasn’t in any of this.”
Following numerous board discussions, Norheim said, “Things just weren’t adding up.
“After hearing that there was a situation at hand…(she asked) is there a way out of this? It was for PIA. All of these people who have spent years and years of their lives to this organization and built it up and to see that it may potentially be falling on its face. I just felt like I should try to repair that, if there were any way to do that,” Norheim concluded.
Norheim, Dean and two other board members resigned from the tribal council on October 12.