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Committee removes Arapaho chairman from seat

Jun 28, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Attorney says panel has no jurisdiction over elected officials after election results have been certified.

A Northern Arapaho government attorney is disputing the actions by the tribe's Election Committee that gave notice removing Business Council chairman Jim Shakespeare from office last week.

In the June 22 letter to the Business Council, Seattle-based attorney Richard Berley said the "election judges have no authority whatsoever to remove an elected official of the Tribe in this manner."

"General Council Resolution 6663, which they cite, provides no support for their action. The supposed removal should be disregarded," wrote Berley with the law firm Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley and Slonim.

The Northern Arapaho Election Committee served Shakespeare with the notice June 22 removing him from office on allegations that he violated resolutions pertaining to his public service.

"The Northern Arapaho Election Judges are taking the Northern Arapaho Business Council's lack of response as acceptance of the charges made in the June 1st letter," the notice states, referring to an earlier correspondence by the committee to the board. "The Northern Arapaho Election Judges are now removing Chairman Shakespeare in his capacity of the Northern Arapaho Tribe."

The action by the 10-member committee created upheaval in Northern Arapaho government ranks, with leaders closing the Ethete offices for the day's remainder while questions flooded the community.

Concerns continued Monday about the committee's action and Shakespeare's official standing on the six-member board. A phone message left with the Business Council office was not returned.

Ongoing consequences surfaced Monday when tribal police then arrested head election judge Jana Rising Sun as she and other committee members arrived to visit the Business Council at the Ethete offices. She was charged with disturbing the peace.

"No paperwork or anything to it," Rising Sun said Monday after posting bond. "They won't even say who signed (the complaint)," she added, calling the arrest a form of harassment.

The action resulted in other questions about the allegations against Shakespeare and the Business Council's future, which may include former chairwoman Kim Harjo, whom the committee appointed as Shakespeare's replacement.

If the committee's action stands, Shakespeare has 15 days to file an appeal with the tribal secretary's office. A special meeting of the Northern Arapaho General Council must convene within 30 days of the appeal's filing date to ratify the committee action.

According to Berley's letter, the committee does not have the power to remove someone from office.

"No provision in Resolution 6663 provides any authority whatsoever to the election judges to remove an election official following certification of a tribal election," the letter states.

"We think it would be a serious legal error for any organ of the Tribe or the federal government, including the BIA, to recognize this unauthorized action of the election judges, which is clearly inconsistent with Resolution 6663 as well as fundamental principles of the Tribe's democracy," according to the letter.

Background

During an interview Monday in Ethete, Rising Sun and several other committee members discussed the action they took to address concerns of tribal members.

"The election committee isn't known for doing this, making public statements -- until all this," Rising Sun said.

Committee members said their actions began with inquiries they made to the Northern Arapaho Business Council concerning rumors that tribal leaders were facing indictments.

A search of a federal online database for criminal prosecution in Wyoming did not reveal any active indictments filed in the recent past against former or present Business Council members.

The committee met with some members of the Business Council on May 29 to ask about the rumors.

"They said it was none of our business," election judge Mary Ellen Pingree said. "We said it was our business because we take care of the tribal laws that are being followed."

Specifically, committee members wanted to know if three Business Council members would be in violation of a resolution that prohibits the leaders from serving in office if convicted of fraud, embezzlement and other crimes.

"If these rumors are true, if they did get indicted, we'd have to move ahead the next three vote-getters," Pingree said.

"That's all we were going to do for all the people asking to find out," Rising Sun said about the committee's inquiries, which included an unsuccessful attempt to get the council to deny the rumors.

In the meantime, "a bunch of documentation fell into our hands," committee member Grace Willow said.

"And we keep getting more and more and more," Pingree added.

The documentation helped the committee form its allegations against Shakespeare that became the substance of the June 1 letter to the chairman and the rest of the council.

The letter to Shakespeare, delivered by certified mail, lists allegations including receiving tribal funds on top of his salary and failing to follow rules governing meeting attendance.

Business Council members must be at their Ethete offices to do tribal work from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on weekdays except holidays, and there must be a quorum of at least four including either the chairman or co-chairman, according to the letter.

The letter demanded a formal response stating "corrective actions" from the Northern Arapaho Business Council within 10 days.

The committee wanted information that Shakespeare did not receive compensation from tribal programs for his personal company or a subsidiary. If he did, then he must return the money, according to the letter signed by nine election judges.

"Their stand is, we've got no business doing this on him," Rising Sun said.

"We work for the people," Willow said. "We have to oversee the Business Council to see if they're following the resolutions."

Withheld funding

The committee is accusing the Business Council of withholding allocated funds that would pay the election judges for their work. The fiscal issue is possibly a response to the inquiry.

"Their power is to say 'we're not going to pay you' when they have no authority to do so," Rising Sun said.

The committee waited beyond the 10 days, until June 22, to deliver its notice of removal to Shakespeare.

"The Business Council, it was their duty to rectify it ... which they didn't," Willow said.

Committee members delivered the letter to the Business Council offices, where they encountered Shakespeare and co-chairman Darrell O'Neal meeting with tribal attorneys and an Arapaho finance department employee at about 9 a.m.

"We were expecting to see everyone because they said, 'We were conducting business. It's going to take a while,'" Rising Sun said about response that morning from the Business Council. "That's what we asked them: 'If you're conducting business, where are the other four?'"

Rising Sun said Shakespeare refused to accept the notice.

"He just threw it down," she said.

The committee members had called tribal police to accompany them to the Business Council offices "just to keep the peace so it didn't get out of control," Rising Sun said.

Police escorted Shakespeare out a back door, and "in the meantime, he shut down the building" at about 11 a.m., she said.

Election committee members returned to the Ethete offices at about 9:30 a.m. Monday. Rising Sun said a police officer arrested her upon her arrival.

"I was in shock. What's going on? What for?" Rising Sun said, adding she learned that a complaint had been signed against her stemming from actions Friday.

"The cops were standing right there as to all of these charges that happened Friday," she said.

She bonded out of the jail in Fort Washakie with a notice to appear in tribal court Thursday. Committee members want to meet with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wind River Office leaders concerning their removal notice and subsequent actions.

"We're still trying to get our pay," Rising Sun said. "We've got our own budget. We've got our own money, which the Business Council is denying us and they have no say over. It's federal money."

Attorney's advice

In his letter, Berley states the election judges are responsible for overseeing balloting at the polling stations during the tribe's primary and general elections. They also hear and resolve election protests, contests or challenges.

"The election judges have no continuing duties or authority regarding elected officials following final certification of election results," according to the letter.

"We are providing this letter to you quickly, because this clearly unlawful removal effort puts the Tribe and its government at grave risk by promoting lawlessness and instability," the letter states.

Berley said he has not seen the initial letter sent by the election judges to Shakespeare and the council.

"We also have no knowledge about the particulars of the 'charges' referenced in the election judges' June 22 letter regarding alleged unauthorized compensation, and express no opinion on that issue," Berley states.

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