Isleta Pueblo Politics

By Christopher L. Abeita

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Pueblo Loses Funding Opportunity

Highlights of the Isleta Tribal Council meeting for Thursday, March 21, 2013.

President James Abeita absent.

All other Council members present.

Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi present. Governor Eddie Paul Torres and Lt. Governor Isidor Abeita absent.

Council meeting began at 9:00 a.m.


Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi presented Joseph Little for confirmation to serve as an Associate Judge for the Isleta Tribal Court. Chewiwi interviewed Little and determined that he was “well qualified” to serve as a Judge.

Little said he has been a lawyer for more than 30 years. He has his own law practice in Albuquerque.  He also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in developing and improving tribal justice court systems.  He also worked for the Pueblo of Pojoaque on matters relating to water, land use and economic development. Little has no prior experience as a judge.

Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero asked Little to share his thoughts on grandparent rights. Little explained that it was necessary to evaluate the “whole situation” when making a decision on grandparent rights.

On criminal matters, Little explained that jail is not the “remedy” for everything.  Of course, jail is necessary for some matters.  But, judges need to look at other ways or solution on such matters.

**Governor Torres and Lt. Gov. Abeita arrived at 9:35 a.m.

Council member Cynthia Jaramillo was concerned about Little’s commitment to working as a full time judge because of his law practice. Little explained that he was committed to working full time as a judge for the Pueblo. He will devote his attention to the Pueblo.

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente excused Little to allow the Council to vote on Little’s confirmation.

Secretary Teller made a motion to vote by secret ballot on the confirmation of Joesph Little.  Council member Fernando Abeita seconded the motion. The motion carried 11 in favor, 0 opposed and 0 abstaining.

The Council voted by secret ballot.  Sheriff Raymond Jojola collected and counted the ballots.  Little received 10 yes votes in favor of confirmation and 1 no vote.

Governor Eddie Paul Torres informed the Council that the new Chief Judge Lawrence Lucero and the new Associate Judges Renee Torres and Joseph Little will start as soon as they can. Torres said, “hopefully, by the first week of April or sooner.”


Vice-President Michael Allen Lente reported that the Council went on a field trip yesterday (March 20, 2013) to Comanche Ranch.   The Vice-President said that the Council was impressed with Ranch Manager Martin Abeita and what he was doing at the Ranch.  Lente asked the Governor to look into applying for grants that would benefit the Ranch.


Governor Torres provided a follow up report on Council member Josephine Padilla’s concern on the Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) application.  Torres told the Council that the Pueblo did not submit an application for the grant. Governor Torres stated, “I’ll accept responsibility for not applying for the grant.”

This means that the Pueblo lost the potential of receiving $600,000 to $800,000 in grant funding. All of the Council members remained silent.


Secretary Verna Teller wanted Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, to go over the appeal process as contained in the Pueblo’s Residency Ordinance. She wanted to ensure that the Council was prepared for the upcoming appeals.  April Abeita, Census Coordinator, and Michelle Lujan, a member of the Tribal Enrollment Committee, (TEC), were also present.

Governor Torres denied residency applications for two individuals that requested permission to reside with their families on the reservation. The Council did not disclose the names of the persons filing appeals.

Secretary Teller did not want the Council to discuss the merits of the appeals.  She only wanted the Tribal Attorney to explain the requirements of the Pueblo’s Residency Ordinance on the appeal process. Other Council members, however, began discussing the merits of the case by arguing that the persons submitting an appeal did not have the right to file an appeal.

Council members Barbara Sanchez and Cynthia Jaramillo kept insisting that the Residency Ordinance was clear because it prohibits non-Indians from residing within the “Pueblo Proper.”  The “Pueblo proper” is essentially the village area.  The Residency Ordinance prohibits non-Indians from living in this area.

Council member Josephine Padilla pointed out that the Residency Ordinance does not prohibit any individual from filing an appeal. Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, agreed.

Secretary Teller stated that the Council was essentially getting into the merits of the case by deciding the issue of whether the person could file an appeal.  She wanted the Council to focus on the Residency Ordinance and to avoid discussion of the merits of the case. Council member Padilla held the same the position as Teller.

Nevertheless, Council member Barbara Sanchez stated that the previous Council developed the ordinance because the “biggest complaints from the traditional tribal members” was that non-Indians were living in the Pueblo proper. She stated that non-Indians have no rights to appeal.

Council member Juan Rey Abeita was very concerned about the Tribe breaking up a family. He said it is difficult for families to get a house anywhere else on the reservation, if they only have one home.  He also stated that it is not easy to move away. Council member Abeita stated that he did not want to be “disrespectful” of the Governor. But, there are other factors that the Council should consider.  Council member Abeita was concerned about the children. The Census Coordinator, April Abeita, stated that the children were not members, they were “descendants.”

Council member Larry Jaramillo also said that he did not feel right about breaking up a family.

April Abeita and Michelle Lujan both stated that the tribal member and the non-Indian submitting the appeal were provided with a copy of the Residency Ordinance one (1) year ago. So, they did not believe the Tribe was “breaking up a family” because the family had time to find alternative housing.

Governor Torres requested the Council to go into executive session.  He wanted to present the Council with information that he felt could not be shared in an open session of the Council.   Juan Rey Abeita made the motion to move into executive session.  The motion carried 9 in favor, 1 opposed and 1 abstaining.  Secretary Verna Teller opposed and Council member Josephine Padilla abstained.

The Council went into executive session at 11:09 a.m. Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, April Abeita, Census Coordinator, and Michelle Lujan, TEC member, joined the Council in their executive session along with the Governors.  They remained in Executive Session until 11:48 a.m.

After the Council ended their executive session, they made no motions in open session concerning their executive session.


Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, presented a resolution to “Enact the Pueblo of Isleta Traffic Ordinance.”  The purpose of this ordinance is to allow the Pueblo to change traffic violations from criminal offenses to civil infractions.  This will enable the Pueblo to collect civil fines from non-Indians.

Indian tribes do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. So, the Pueblo hopes that reclassifying traffic offenses as civil offenses will allow the Pueblo to collect monetary fines from non-Indians that commit traffic offenses on tribal roads.

Padilla explained that the Traffic Ordinance will only apply to certain tribal roads, which were identified in maps attached to the resolution.  The Tribe’s new Traffic Ordinance will not apply to State Highways running through the reservation.

The Council, by motion, unanimously approved the resolution “Enacting the Pueblo of Isleta Traffic Ordinance.”  The vote was 11 in favor, 0 opposed and 0 abstaining.

Padilla said the Pueblo will submit the resolution to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for approval (BIA).  Upon receipt, the BIA has 120 days to approve the ordinance.

The Council took a break for lunch.



The Isleta Tribal Council brought in the Isleta Pueblo Housing Authority (IPHA) to discuss the Governor’s concerns with the Executive Director, Denny James.  The following Board of Commissioners for the IPHA attended:

Allen Zuni, Chairman;

Debbie Lente-Jojola, Vice-Chairman;

Richard Lucero; &

Rose Lucero.

Executive Director, Denny James, and IPHA’s attorney, Denise Zuni, were also present.

Governor Torres stated that he receives many complaints from tribal members about Housing and that “we need to get to the bottom of this.” Governor Torres said, he was going to be “blunt” and he told the Council that, “Mr. Denny James is not doing his job.” Torres said he spoke to Chairman Allen Zuni about his concerns.  But, the problems persist.

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente asked Chairman Zuni whether he is communicating the Governor’s concerns to the Board.

Board member, Richard Lucero, stood up and explained to the Council that the Board has heard some of the complaints.  But, the Governor does not send all of the complaints to the Board.  Lucero suggested that the Governor provide the Board with a list of the people that are complaining.  This would allow the Board to be proactive and address the complaints.

Vice-Chair Debbie Lente-Jojola also explained that the Board meets on a monthly basis.  She explained that the IPHA is obligated to comply with housing regulations when using federal money to avoid losing housing money. She stated that the Board would like to know what issues the Governor is referring too.

Governor Torres said that Mr. James, “is not wanting to meet with the people and that he is not returning their phone calls.”  The Governor did not identify any other complaints.

Chairman Zuni explained that tribal members will continue to go to the Governor because that is the “cultural mindset” of the Tribe.  When people have a problem, they go to the Governor.  The community does not yet understand that the IPHA is a separate entity and the IPHA was only starting its third year as a separate entity.

Chairman Zuni explained that previous Councils set up the IPHA as a separate entity as an effort to eliminate politics from housing matters.   He explained that when housing is in the hands of a Governor, it enabled whoever was serving as a Governor to develop a political support base.  It also allowed the Governor to help only certain families.  This is something that previous Councils wanted to stop.

Zuni then looked directly at Governor Torres.  He stated, when you served as the Executive Director for Housing you were able to “sidestep” federal regulations because you routinely went before the Council to get money.  The Council “almost never said no” to your requests. This allowed “you to operate outside of the budget.”  Chairman Zuni said, “we don’t have that same reality.”

Chairman Zuni turned his attention back to the Council. He said, that “the Tribal Council developed the housing policies not the Board.”  The Council then directed the Board to “enforce those polices and to be fair across the board. And, that is what the Executive Director and the Board are doing.” The Chairman then stated, “the Governor and Council can’t prove that Housing has not followed policy.”

Zuni explained that the IPHA Board recognize that if “push comes to shove” the Governor is not going anywhere and that Mr. James would be the person to go.  The Board, however, does not believe that there is “just cause” to get rid of the Executive Director.

Chairman Zuni said the Governor was not communicating with the Executive Director. He told the Council that if you need evidence, “look at the ICDBG grant.”  Zuni explained that the IPHA wanted to apply for the grant.  The IPHA could have helped many people, if it received the grant.  The Executive Director, Denny James, asked the Governor, on numerous occasions, how the Governor wanted to proceed with the grant. But, Governor Torres would not respond.

Chairman Zuni explained it was not Denny James that decided to write the letter to the Governor on the ICDBG grant. The Housing Board directed Mr. James to write the letter and  that he (Chairman Zuni) signed off on the letter to the Governor. Zuni stated that he wanted to ensure that the Board and Executive Director were covered. In other words, the Chairman did not want the Council to blame the IPHA for failing to apply for the ICDBG grant.

Council member Cynthia Jaramillo then accused of the IPHA of being “political.”  She complained that the IPHA sent three (3) individuals (Odelia Jojola, Genevieve Vicente and Lupita Avila.) to the Council for housing issues. She said that Housing should have dealt with those persons not the Council.

Chairman Zuni responded by telling Jaramillo, “you have been misinformed.”  He explained that the prior Governor, President Fred Lujan and Vice-President Joseph “Cougar” Lucero were the persons that decided to send the three (3) individuals to the Council not the Board. The prior Governor, President Lujan and Vice-President Lucero sent them to the Council because they had traditional roles within the Pueblo.  Council member “Joseph “Cougar” Lucero did not dispute Chairman Zuni’s statement, he sat silently.

A few minutes later, Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero left the meeting at 1:48 p.m.

Council member Josephine Padilla stated that she was not aware that President Lujan and Vice-President “Joseph “Cougar” Lucero were involved with such meeting. She said, they never informed the previous Council of such meeting.

Denise Zuni, the attorney for the IPHA, explained that the IPHA receives HUD money and money from the Pueblo of Isleta (POI).  The Board of Commissioners for the IPHA must comply with HUD regulations when using the HUD money. If the IPHA fails to comply, then the IPHA will lose the federal money.

In contrast, the IPHA may use the POI money in accordance with any policies that the Pueblo creates.  The POI money is not controlled by federal regulations because it comes from the Pueblo. [The Pueblo supplements the IPHA with profits generated through the Casino.]

This means that the IPHA has two separate pools of money.  This creates confusion because tribal members get the false impression that people are jumping ahead of the list for housing repairs or for the construction of new homes.

But, the IPHA is ensuring that no one is jumping ahead of anyone on home repairs or construction projects funded by HUD money. Allowing persons to jump ahead of others would result in an adverse audit finding from HUD, which would jeopardize future funding.  The problem is that tribal members are not aware of which category of money the IPHA is using to address their particular housing need.

** Council member Juan Rey Abeita left the meeting at 2:14 p.m.

To resolve the problem, Denise Zuni suggested that the IPHA and the Pueblo enter an agreement, which would enable the IPHA to use POI money to help tribal members selected by the Council or Governor. Secretary Verna Teller said that it would “defeat the purpose of establishing a board.” People would just go straight to the Council to sidestep housing policies. Council member Fernando Abeita said we need to keep politics from the selection process.  He wants the Tribe to comply with policies to be fair to everyone.

Governor Torres also had Olin Calderon, the Human Resources Director, address the Council on his concerns. Calderon stated that the Human Resources (HR) has no say so about the IPHA employees.  He said, “IPHA policies protect the Executive Director.”  Calderon said that HR is unable to act upon employee grievances from IPHA employees.

Denise Zuni stated that the IPHA is not a program of the Pueblo. It is a separate entity and the IPHA does have policies and procedures to address grievances for IPHA employees.  She also stated that the IPHA did take action to address concerns from the Pueblo’s HR Department.

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente told Governor Torres that it did not look like the Council would be making any changes at this time.  He told the Housing Board that they need to communicate better with the Governor.


The Pottery Mound is a parcel of land the University of New Mexico (UNM) gave to the Pueblo. It is approximately 10 acres. It is adjacent to the Comanche Ranch.

Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, along with Daniel Waseta and Valentino Jaramillo of the Cultural Committee recommended that the Pueblo wait before requesting the federal government to place the land into trust.

UNM conducted archeological digs on the land and gave it the name of “Pottery Mound” due to the large amount of broken pottery found in the area.  The Rio Puerco cuts through the property and the erosion from the river has uncovered ancient human remains.


The Pueblo is exploring the idea of taking responsibility for operating and managing the Isleta Elementary School.  Before taking such responsibility, the Pueblo will conduct a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of taking over the school.

To begin the process, Pablo Padilla, the Tribal Attorney, presented a resolution to the Council to authorize Governor Torres to negotiate with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to enter into an Inter-Personnel Agreement (IPA) with the BIE to allow Debbie Lente-Jojola to assist the Pueblo with the feasibility study.

An IPA agreement will allow the Pueblo to use a BIE employee to perform services on behalf of the Pueblo.  The BIE and the Pueblo will share the costs of paying the salary of the BIE employee (Debbie Lente-Jojola) for the duration of the agreement.

After the feasibility study is completed, the Pueblo will decide whether it should take over management and operation of Isleta Elementary.

Council member Barbara Sanchez made the motion to approve the resolution for the request of an IPA with the BIE for Debbie Lente-Jojola.  The motion carried 7 in favor, 0 opposing and 2 abstaining.  Secretary Verna Teller and Council member Larry Jaramillo abstained.


Pablo Padilla, the Tribal Attorney, presented Judith Durzo as the top candidate to serve as a Hearing Officer for Isleta Gaming Licenses. The purpose of the Hearing Officer is to review decisions of the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency (IGRA) on gaming license revocations.  Durzo will have the authority to overturn decisions of the IGRA as the Hearing Officer.

According to Padilla, 12 persons submitted applications for the position. Governor Eddie Paul Torres and Council members Cynthia Jaramillo and Juan Rey Abeita along with Pablo Padilla selected and interviewed four (4) of the applicants.  The persons interviewed were all attorneys.  The committee interviewed Peter Tasso, Joe Tenorio, Judith Durzo and Cynthia Aragon.

Padilla stated that Durzo has no gaming experience. Nevertheless, the Committee feels that she has “the ability to gain experience.”  The previous Council appointed Durzo to serve as a member of the Isleta Ethics Board.  Thereafter, the previous Council selected Durzo to serve as the attorney for the Ethics Board.  Padilla did not explain why Durzo was no longer serving in those prior positions.

The contract Pablo Padilla presented already contained an hourly rate of $195 for Durzo.  Council member Josephine Padilla questioned why the Pueblo was not negotiating the compensation for Durzo. Council member Barbara Sanchez stated that Durzo should get the same rate of compensation as the previous Hearing Officer.  Council member Cynthia Jaramillo immediately concurred.  None of the Council members asked whether the previous hearing officer had experience that justified his rate of compensation.

Secretary Verna Teller expressed concerns about the Durzo selection. She explained that the persons serving on the Ethics Board are limited to receiving $25 an hour.  Yet, the prior Council paid Durzo well over $25 to serve on the Board, which violated the policies the Council established on compensating board members. So, Teller questioned the ethics of Durzo.  Secretary Teller’s concern fell upon deaf ears.

Council member Barbara Sanchez made the motion to approve the contract with Judith Durzo, to compensate her at $195 hourly and for the duration of the contract to be from March 2013 thru March 2017.  Council member Phillip Jiron seconded the motion.  The motion carried 6 in favor, 3 opposed and 0 abstaining. Secretary Verna Teller and Council members Fernando Abeita and Josephine Padilla opposed the motion.

The Council adjourned at 4:15 p.m.

By Christopher Abeita

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