The Petersburg Indian Association has been the object of controversy in the past year due to the recent termination of the tribal administrator, the hiring practices of the board and the tribal members want to know why.
A letter from a tribal member was read into the record during the PIA regular board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20.
“I received this letter and want to have it read into the record,” newly appointed board member Jeannette Ness stated.
The letter stated that there was a job opening for a PIA roads director and an applicant was chosen. The writer stated they have nothing but respect and high feelings for this man and his family, but they do, on the other hand, have hard feelings toward the board and hiring committee.
The writer goes on to state that there were two other very qualified applicants for the position, one of which had all the requirements, plus some, including an engineering degree and 30 plus years in construction working concrete roads and being a supervisor and foreman for projects.
The letter also said that with someone with that kind of experience leading the road crew, could you imagine the kind of knowledge he could have passed along.
The writer said they were so disappointed with this choice, not because of whom they did choose, but because of whom they did not choose and the growth and education the board took away from the roads program.
Lastly, it said, this choice does not feel like it is good for the tribe. The writer stated they hope the board can turn this around because the poor choices of the board lately are affecting the tribe and the PIA employees. The position in question was awarded to Will Ware.
This letter began an evening of contention between the tribal members present and some of the board.
“It doesn’t matter what that letter says,” PIA Board Member Ron Ware stated. “If it had been signed, I may respect it, but it isn’t signed.”
Tribal member Skip Hallingstad stated from the audience that the letter reflects the feelings of most of the tribal members.
“It is my belief that we could take a petition with that very wording and probably get 100 signatures on it,” Hallingstad said. “I know that is a strong belief among way more than just the person that wrote that letter.”
PIA Board Chair Christina Sakamoto stated that she had some hard feelings that she, as a board member, was not allowed to be a part of that interview and hiring process.
“We have to do what is best for the tribe and I don’t feel we have been doing that lately,” Sakamoto stated.
New tribal member, Fran Jones took this opportunity to voice her thoughts on the way the PIA Board has been handling issues.
“As long as this board does not follow proper procedures and policy, you are going to receive this type of critique,” Jones stated. “The board has no business hiring and firing employees. The only employee you should be concerned with is the tribal administrator and now you do not have one and you are going to get a lot of flack.”
The proper use of policy and procedures as well as Roberts Rules of Order were called into question about past decisions that the board has made.
“There is a protocol in place when firing an administrator,” Tribal Member Mike Sheldon said. “I believe misconduct has taken place with this board. Bruce Jones’ one-year evaluation had not even come up. He was hired for two and a half months, then let go.”
Sheldon also stated that the protocol in this situation was unjust and he thinks the board should revisit the decisions it has made in the past because there was not a full board.
“I don’t think this was a good act and I think it should be changed,” Sheldon said. “I think Bruce should get his job back, and he should be evaluated after 12 months and if he is doing a good job, then he should continue.”
Hallingstad brought to question how hastily it was done.
“Why was this so hastily decided and he just be kicked out the door when others were given probation, double probation and triple secret probation with their misconduct?” Halligstad asked. “If you are going to use the policy and be so stringent, you should be that way with everyone, whether it is giving Jones more chances to prove himself or to give previous people a pass and let them abuse their power.”
Tribal member Brenda Louise called a copy of the policy and procedure manual into action.
“According the policy and procedures manual, the tribal administrator is authorized for all personnel matters on a day to day basis,” Louise stated. “As used in the handbook, the term tribal administrator includes his or her authorized designee in order that the administration and direction of PIA be carried out in an orderly and effective manner.”
According to Louise the two criteria must be followed: Neither the administration or its employees may direct or attempt to control deliberative activities of any council member.
“It is my understanding when Connie Bisson was fired she called two members of the board, Ron Ware and Derek Lopez,” Louise stated. “She was told by these board members that she was not fired and to lock herself in her office.”
Louise also stated that, by the handbook, Bisson did not follow the chain of command and I think the two board members should be held accountable for not following the procedures set forth by the board.
“You may be able to get four people on the board to do what you [Ware] want, but you still have no authority to call a tribal employee and tell them what to do and then fire the tribal administrator so they are protected. What are you covering up?” Louise asked. “I don’t know what you guys have going on, but it is not good for the tribe and you have gone way beyond your authority on the board.”
Louise stated that Ware and Lopez circumvented the policies and procedures manual as board members and did not adhere to the manual that the board voted into place.
Questions of the whereabouts of Lopez were brought to light as well.
“The last three meetings I have attended, Derek has not been here,” Hallingstad stated. “I believe he welds far too much power on this board for someone who can’t even take the time to come here and face the heat and do the job he was appointed to do.”
Former PIA Board President, Ronelle Beardsley explained the importance of following the constitution and bylaws of the PIA organization.
“If this board will follow the bylaws to a tee, that is job security and no one can do anything to you,” Beardsley said. “These rules are there for a reason.”
Beardsley explained that she knows the board is trying to do a good job, but the concerns of the public are not going away.
“The rumors are out there, big time,” she stated. “We have to work together, get on the same page and make sure we are doing the best possible for the tribal members and following the constitution and bylaws of this organization will be a monumental start.”
Sheldon also explained that every board member should be sitting with the council bylaws in from of them at any and all meetings.
“Every one of the council members should know the bylaws front and back and when one council member steps out of line the other should have the right to correct him,” Sheldon said. “That is what will protect you and that is what will make you a strong tribal government. I’m not here to attack, I’m here to listen and I am hoping you will make changes because if you don’t, the tribal members will do it for you in January.”
During this meeting Sakamoto was elected by the board as chairman and an election committee was formed with Fran Jones being named election judge for the upcoming PIA Board election Jan. 7, 2013.