After only 2-1/2 months on the job, Bruce Jones, Petersburg Indian Association Tribal Administrator was fired by a 4-2 vote of the tribal council on Tuesday night. Jones was hired on August 1 of this year.
Jones did not give a reason for his firing and referred questions to his attorney John Hoag.
Tribal member Ronelle Beardslee told the Pilot she and other tribal members will be seeking legal council to determine their next move.
“I’m very disappointed the board didn’t support their tribal administrator. The PIA board should have gotten legal counsel before making such a rash decision,” Beardslee said.
Beardslee was also critical of the board for not filling her position after she resigned 6-months ago for health reasons. According to Beardslee, Article 5, Section 1(d) of the bylaws state that board vacancies should be filled at the next regular meeting following a resignation such as hers.
Beardslee concluded, “ I want to know what the facts are behind this decision. People in the community have said nothing but good things about Bruce being hired as tribal administrator.”
When contacted for comment on Wednesday afternoon, Tribal member and former Tribal Council member Brenda Norhiem said, “I am really disappointed.”
The Petersburg Indian Association has faced turmoil during the past 12 months after four board members and two employees resigned their positions with PIA in October 2011, without public statements on reasons for their resignations.
In February of this year, details came forth in the form of testimony before the State Employment Security Division when former directors Brenda Norheim and Jeanette Ness testified before a hearing officer.
Testimony at the hearings showed PIA financial statements were in error and mistrust of the tribal leadership were factors in the resignations.
The hearing officer determined that account deficits brought forth by Susan Harai, Director of the Indian Reservation Roads program, were a “reporting error,” and that there was no deficit in the PIA account as the PIA employee alleged.
Tribal Administrator Will Ware was quoted in a February news report, “The whole incident is the result of this simple fact that a certificate of deposit was mislabeled for a short period of time. Once that error was identified, it was immediately corrected.”
According to testimony presented at the ESD hearing, Tribal Administrator Will Ware was sanctioned by the tribal directors for failing to disclose financial information about PIA when the association later backed out of the purchase of U.S. Forest Service property that PIA could not afford to pay for. The board met in early October to resolve what was termed a financial crisis. According to testimony, Will Ware was placed on probation with terms that his pay be cut, his financial autonomy with PIA was reduced and signers on the PIA accounts were changed so persons with family ties to Ware were not co-signers.
Ware resigned as tribal administrator in April of 2012 and stated via e-mail: “After 10-years of work within the Tribe, in a variety of different capacities, I have decided to move on to a new chapter in my life. In Tribal governments, as there is in any government, there is the element of politics that must be contended with. Again, after years of work with the Tribe, I have found that I am more interested in what my faith teaches, that is: If it is possible, to live at peace with everyone.”
In their advertisement published in June, 1012 to fill the position vacated by Ware, PIA sought an administrator to fulfill a detailed list of management duties and objectives that included managing PIA employees and working with the Tribal Council to meet Tribal goals and objectives including partnerships with the State of Alaska, federal government and the City of Petersburg. The position offered salary and benefits of $50,000 to $70,000 annually.
PIA operates a wide range of services to the public and its Tribal members including tobacco prevention, energy assistance, general assistance, numerous grant programs, recycling, composting, road and sidewalk construction and pre-school programs. They also own and operate the Seaside Restaurant on Sing Lee Alley.
Tribal council members are: Tina Sakamoto, Chair; Ron Ware, Vice-Chair; council members, Melanie Frentz, Derek Lopez, Mary Ann Rainey and Chris Lopez.