The Petersburg Indian Association conference room was filled on Tuesday, Dec. 11 with tribal members to continue an ongoing debate with the board in regards to business, hiring practices and statements made at the last meeting of November 20.
The meeting opened with the question of whether the press would be allowed to attend.
“I believe there were a lot of incorrect statements made at the last meeting,” tribal member and PIA Roads Director, Will Ware stated. “This is a business meeting and I don't believe we have had a business meeting in a few months because people have monopolized the meeting so it is to the discretion of the council as to whether there are non-tribal members in attendance to the meeting.”
In rebuttal to the statement, former Tribal Administrator Bruce Jones stated that if the media was not allowed to stay, he would record the meeting and turn the tape over to the press as a result.
“Regardless of what you may be trying to hide,” Jones said. “It will be out there and there is no reason the media should not be allowed here.”
Tribal Board Member Maryann Rainey took this opportunity to make a statement regarding the actions of the members and the board.
“I have been a member of this board for several years, off and on,” Rainey stated. “I know there are a lot of unhappy people out there because of the decisions we have made, but the decisions we have made, by my point of view have always been for the tribe.”
She explained that “there isn't anything to hide and the only thing we seem to be guilty of is having people on the board that many of you don't like.”
“I don't understand why we are so divided,” Rainey said. “There are rules and regulations to all departments, there are things we cannot answer. I did not want to see this tribe fall apart. We have to come to a point where we can agree with each other. We cannot move forward if this keeps coming up.”
Rainey also explained that she feels the group has come apart at the seams because they have grown so fast in so many ways.
“I feel we need to pull together,” she stated. “I am sorry that some don't understand some of the things we have done and I'm sorry you feel we are doing things behind your back. The only time we ever hear about anything is when things go bad. Let's draw a line and come together.”
The election has been set for Monday, Jan. 7 and Rainey said that the time is coming to make the changes.
“The time is coming, you can replace us all,” she stated. “I've tried to be fair with all of the decisions I've made. I hate to see us where we are and why do people think we are so corrupt? If you think you can get better qualified people, then do so.”
Tribal member Brenda Louise brought forward a copy of Roberts Rules of Order and the PIA constitution and declared that by those rules any member of the tribe or council had the right to bring questions and concerns to the floor of the meeting.
A resolution regarding absentee voting for PIA was adopted at a special meeting held Monday, Nov. 26 and the validity of that resolution came into question with concerns about absentee ballots not being allowed for this election.
“The constitution states that a quorum consists of one more than one half of the board excluding the chairman,” Ware stated.
Tribal member Dawn Ware brought to question the rights of some members and their inability to vote if the absentee voting rights are not in place.
“There are so many rules and regulations in place to see that everyone has the right to vote,” she stated. “Everyone has a basic right to vote and the PIA constitution states that every member should enjoy the benefits and privileges of every other member. I would like to know why you are taking away votes from people who are not present?”
According to Dawn Ware, if someone is out of town, by this new rule, they will not be allowed to vote.
She also brought into question many pages of strict policy rules for absentee voting in the past and questioned why these rules would not be followed.
“Why have these rules been stripped out and only three days been allowed for voting in this election?” she asked. “The whole point of absentee ballots is to make it fair for everyone. If you want a new council, if you want to change the rules, then fine, so be it, I can't believe you are trying to strip the members of their rights more than the government is already restricting our rights.”
PIA Election Judge, Fran Jones explained that the decision was made by the board to do away with the absentee voting.
“The subject of mailing ballots was brought up and there were some problems with that because there were questions of abuse at the last election,” Jones stated. “I drafted this resolution from the City and amended it in order for it to fit with PIA and presented it to the board in my capacity of Election Judge. The absentee voting was left out of this resolution by request of one of the board members.”
Jones also explained that the board wished to avoid problems that came about after the last election and this was one of the best ways in order to avoid those serious questions.
Tribal member Mike Sheldon stated that if they are going to allow an absentee ballot then there should be a representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs here in order to scrutinize the voting process.
“We need to make sure that these ballots are being counted with integrity,” Sheldon stated. “If there are any breaches in the absentee ballots then they need to be subject to the scrutiny of someone that is not connected to this organization.”
Sheldon also stated that he would be in favor of absentee ballots if there was someone looking over the process.
“Time is of the essence here though,” Fran Jones stated. “We have to have time to make sure ballot judges are trained and have the ballots mailed and give time for the ballots to be returned by the postmark date of the election.”
By the end of the discussion, the board voted to allow absentee voting and will explain the way in which these ballots will be handled in the near future.
Allegations of assault regarding two PIA employees came to the floor by a member of the tribe in the audience.
Tribal member Mary Miller asked for a clarification of an incident where one PIA employee hit another employee over the head and no action has been taken for this.
“How was this incident settled? To me that is a form of bullying and it is an assault on another employee,” Miller said. “I want an answer to this.”
PIA Board Chair Christina Sakamoto replied that it is a form of abuse and bullying and had just become aware of the situation and she did not know how the situation had been followed up.
“I have been approached on this topic,” Sakamoto said. “I have asked that the victim write a letter and report this incident, but I have yet to see that and I just don't know if the board has been approached by this person to bring this to light.”
Miller was not to be deferred by this lack of knowledge.
“I believe this is a form of assault,” Miller stated. “I believe the victim has a fear that he will lose his job if he comes forward, and I don't believe he should have that fear. I would suggest that you pursue this incident and file charges against the person that committed this act.”
The same person, that remains unnamed at this time, was also accused of making denigrating statements about tribal members and other PIA employees.
“This person should not be a part of this organization,” Tribal member Skip Hallingstad stated. “They have claimed that natives aren't smart enough to carry out certain functions in this organization and I take high offense to that statement. Anyone who made those statements within these walls should not be around here anymore. I would love to be disproven on this matter, but if not why has nothing been done?”
Rainey answered this with a position of procedure.
“If things like this have taken place, there are steps that need to be taken,” Rainey stated. “There needs to be a formal letter written to the supervisor, if there isn't action taken then there should. If there isn't a written statement we, as a board, cannot do anything about it.”
She also stated that if they want something done about the incident then they should put it in writing.
“I believe that is, in the most part true,” Hallingstad said. “But when one is afraid of losing their job that becomes a hostile environment. People that are not considered team players are run out of here quickly.”
The process in which the tribal administrator was terminated was brought to the attention of the members during this process.
“We have a tribal administrator here and he was only here for two and a half months and this is his job, to scrutinize his employees,” Sheldon stated. “Bruce Jones only had two and half months here and this is the third time I've been here and yet it still hasn't been explained. He was let go by the board because he made an administrative decision which he had the right to do. If you [the board] had questions about that, you should have gone to the administrator and talked to him about that but not to fire him.”
Sheldon also explained that the board doesn't have the right to fire an administrator after the first strike and the strike he [Jones] dealt was to protect our whole environment.
“If someone is doing something wrong in this building that has to do with finances or abuse, it is up to the administrator to go to that person and write a statement to the facts,” Sheldon added. “He is then to take that to another level, to the board, but the protocol wasn't followed in this matter. This issue went from the complainer, to the board and the board fired him.”
He explained that this is not the way to do business. Business is done correctly and by the bylaws and constitution of the organization.
“We have the right to do things correctly and responsibly,” Sheldon stated. “What was done here was not done right. Bruce had a one year evaluation and was only allowed two and a half months and was fired.”
According to Sheldon there is no excuse for the manner in which this action was taken.
“There is protocol in place,” Sheldon stated. “There is a point of order and I believe the point of order negligent and it needs to be corrected.”
He also explained that Jones should be given the opportunity to fulfill his mission and after a year, if they feel he has not done his job then fire him.
“But give him the chance to do his job,” Sheldon stated. “We, the tribal members, want to see, in writing, what the board has against our administrator and what did he do so wrong?”
Rainey answered that the board is not privileged to answer and explain to the members.
“We have rules to follow as well,” Rainey stated. “If we had a way to answer the question but until then our hands are tied.”
Tribal member Tonia Grant stood to say that after listening to the arguments around the room that may be the reason the victim in the alleged assault does not wish to come forward, because of the way Jones was fired.
“I have approached this person and asked the victim if he is willing to put this incident in writing and he is,” Sakamoto stated. “I have asked them to take the next step and retaining a lawyer that will represent them. No one in any organization has the right to be bullied, nobody has the right to be hit, or abused in any manner.”
Miller wanted to know why the person that committed this assault is still employed, when Jones is no longer employed.
“What is the difference here?” Miller asked. “There are steps to be taken, and I challenge you board members to take those steps.”
Hallingstad voiced an issue of favoritism.
“We are just asking for fair and even policy across the board,” Hallingstad stated. “We don't want favoritism in one area that fits certain agendas.”
Sheldon stated that Jones would be considered his tribal administrator until a reason for his dismissal is brought to light.
Many areas of contention were tossed about and no real conclusions were brought forth regarding this termination.
The PIA election will be held Monday, Jan. 7 and the next meeting will be held in the PIA Conference Room at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8.