Isleta Pueblo Politics

By Christopher L. Abeita

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Highlights ITC Meeting April 30, 2013

Meeting started at 9:08 a.m.

Absent: Governor Eddie Paul Torres


Louis Trujillo is a candidate running for position # 4 on the Board of Directors for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD). The Council gave Trujillo a brief opportunity to introduce himself. He lives in Los Padillas. He is 75 years old and he’s been farming since age 8. Trujillo attends MRGCD meetings on a regular basis.

Trujillo explained that he is running as a team with Jim Roberts.  Roberts is seeking position # 3 on the MRGCD.

Trujillo said he understands that the Pueblo has prior and paramount water rights. [Generally, “prior and paramount water rights” means the Pueblo has the first right to use water for domestic use, irrigation and for livestock].  Trujillo said that the MRGCD is also responsible for providing flood protection.

Tribal members over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in the MRGCD election. Election Day is June 4, 2013. You may vote from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. For more info, visit the MRGCD website.


The Council, by motion, unanimously approved a renewal contract with the Setter Group. The Setter Group provides lobbying services. The duration of the contract will be one year. The Setter Group has provided the Pueblo with services for almost 5 years.


Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi said that Governor Torres plans to reschedule the community meeting for mid-May.


President Michael Allen Lente announced that Attorney Pablo Padilla would be late due to a family issue. So, the Council delayed discussion of several items that Padilla was scheduled to address.


Secretary Verna Teller presented a resolution to the Council, which would authorize the Isleta Tribal Court to have a copy of the tribal membership roll. She explained that the Tribal Court submitted a letter requesting access to the roll to verify tribal membership of individuals appearing before the Court.

Council member Cynthia Jaramillo does not believe it is appropriate for the Court to have a membership roll due to the confidentiality of the information. She said Tribal Census should be responsible for maintaining control of the membership roll. Jaramillo believes the Court should request information from Census “just like every other department.”

Secretary Teller explained that the Court is not a “department, it is a branch of government.”  She believes it is unduly burdensome for the Court to request information from Census.  She also said the Council needs to get out of the “mindset that the Court is a department.”

Council member Cynthia Jaramillo said “you are trying to twist my words into something negative.”  Jaramillo said it was not appropriate for the Council to approve the resolution on the “spur of the moment.”

Council member Barbara Sanchez agreed with Jaramillo.    She explained that previously the Tribal Council was in a court case against a Council member. [She did not name the person]. Sanchez said the Council submitted affidavits and other documents to the Court. But, the Court lost those documents. So, she does not feel comfortable with the Court having a tribal membership roll.

Also, Sanchez did not feel there was enough justification for why the courts need information from the Census roll.  Before making a decision, Sanchez wants to hear from April Abeita, Director of the Tribal Census Office.

Secretary Teller stated that she would place the matter on the agenda. She will have April Abeita, the Chief Judge and the head court clerk come before Council to address the issue.

Council member Barbara Sanchez motioned to table the resolution on access to the membership roll by the Tribal Court until they provide more justification and after hearing from April Abeita. Phillip Jiron seconded. Motion carried 10 in favor, 1 opposed and 1 abstaining. Secretary Teller opposed and Council member Larry Jaramillo abstained.


President Lente told Chief Justice William Johnson that the Council appointed Roseanna Toya-Lucero on March 26th and that he sent a memo to his office on the appointment. Yet, Toya had not yet taken her position on the Court. He asked the Chief Justice, “Can you explain why she is not on board?”

Chief Justice Johnson said that the Justices are concerned about the interpretation of the ordinance establishing their terms of office. He is referring to Resolution # 2011-049, which the Council calls, “Enacting an Ordinance Establishing the Number, Qualifications, Terms of Office, Vetting Process and Superintending Authority for Pueblo of Isleta Appellate Court Justices.”

Chief Justice Johnson explained that his term and the terms for Justice Christine Zuni-Cruz and Justice Francine Jaramillo do not expire until December 2013 pursuant to the ordinance. He said the only vacancies on the Appellate Court were for the lay Justices due to the resignations of Justice Thomas Lucero and Justice Richard Jiron. This meant the Council could fill those vacancies in accordance with the ordinance.

The Chief Justice said a vacancy occurs when someone resigns, dies or when a tribal official is removed from office in accordance with the Tribal Constitution. 

The Justices are concerned that the Council’s decision to remove Francine Jaramillo and replace her with Toya is “inappropriate” due to the ordinance. The Chief Justice said he understands that the Council disagrees with him because they interpret the ordinance differently. Nevertheless, he said that it is the duty of the Appellate Court “to enforce the law.” He suggested that the Council appoint Toya to the vacant lay Justice position.

Several Council members believe the terms for all the Justices expired on December 2012 because the ordinance states that the terms for the Justices coincide with the “incumbent” Council. Vice-President Larry Jaramillo stated that the election conducted this past November meant that the terms for the Justices expired in 2012 after the election.

Council member Juan Rey Abeita wanted to know whether the Chief Justice received a letter of appointment.  He said the letters should specify the term. He also stated that he believes the terms for the Justices expired because “that is what happens with the State and around the country.”

Chief Justice Johnson responded, “I’m going by the ordinance and what our law requires.”

Council member Josephine Padilla asked whether the Justices were involved with drafting the ordinance. Johnson said that the Justices provided comments to Pablo Padilla, Tribal Attorney.

Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero asked “Why do you have cases pending since 2003? Chief Justice Johnson said, “We are handicapped because of the natures of our appointments.”  He explained that the Justices are only part-time.

Council member James Abeita suggested that the Council get an independent third-party to help resolve the matter because of the different interpretations of the ordinance.

Council member Fernando Abeita stated, “We need to do what is best for the Tribe.” He explained that the Council should not take a hard-line approach.  He wanted the Council to consider the dispute without taking the matter personally.

Council member Barbara Sanchez suggested that the Council provide the ordinance to Gary Brownell for an interpretation. She wanted Brownell to provide a memo to the Council analyzing the ordinance. Brownell is an attorney for the Pueblo.

Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero stated that the “Council made a motion to replace Francine with Rosanna. This is our law.”

Secretary Verna Teller said “We need to think this through.” The Council delegated its authority to the Appellate Court and the Council needs to acknowledge that authority.  We are the rule makers. Yet, we run over our own laws left and right.  We need to follow the law. We have a duty to follow the law as “law makers.”

The Council excused Chief Justice Johnson.

The Council decided that they will get another interpretation of the ordinance from Attorney Gary Brownell.  The Council will provide him with all necessary documents. The Council will ask Brownell to expedite this issue because they want a quick turn around.

Council member Barbara Sanchez asked whether Justice Francine Jaramillo “was still participating in court decisions.” If so, she wondered whether those decisions are valid. She said that Justice Jaramillo recently submitted a letter to the Council using letterhead from the Appellate Court. Sanchez is concerned that Justice Jaramillo is still making decisions on court cases. Sanchez feels that it is inappropriate for Justice Jaramillo to participate in any court decisions due to the dispute.

11:38 a.m. break for lunch.


President Michael Allen Lente advised the Council that Attorney Pablo Padilla would not be able to attend the meeting because of a family issue. He suggested that the Council adjourn because the agenda items required a presentation from Padilla.

Council member Barbara Sanchez requested the Council address 2 issues before ending the meeting.


Sanchez requested the Council to “ratify” the “Pueblo of Isleta Head Start and Early Head Start Parent Policy Council Bylaws.”  She explained that the Parent Policy Council made only minor grammatical changes to the bylaws.  The Council unanimously approved the policies by motion.


Council member Sanchez read a statement to the Council “for the record.”  In her statement, Sanchez said that the Council’s minute log indicates that the Council has conducted 46 meetings and that the Council has only approved 12 sets of meeting minutes. Also, according to Sanchez, the draft minutes are incomplete and the votes are wrong.

She was also unhappy with the meeting minutes for January 30, 2013, because those minutes contained information that the Council discussed during an executive session. [Ordinarily, the Council does not record their discussions when they are in executive session.]

Apparently, on January 30, 2013, the Council entered into an executive session. They then discussed an issue relating to allegations of embezzlement by Bruce Sanchez. [Council member Barbara Sanchez was married to Bruce Sanchez. He served as Governor of Santa Ana Pueblo. The US is prosecuting Bruce Sanchez on charges of embezzlement and conspiracy].

Ms. Sanchez stated that his name [Bruce Sanchez] was never mentioned during the executive session. Yet, the January 30th meeting minutes contained his name.  She also said that the meeting minutes indicated that she made a statement and she said that she never made the statement as contained in the meeting minutes.

Further, Council member Sanchez said it was not necessary for anyone to tell her to recuse herself. She said she will always recuse herself without being told when it is necessary.

Sanchez said it is “increasingly difficult to approve minutes” because of the delay in getting those minutes to the Council for approval. She said previously the Council suspended a Secretary for failing to complete meeting minutes.

When Sanchez finished reading her statement, Council member Fernando Abeita tried to explain that the prior Council did not suspend Mark Dixon due to the minutes.  Sanchez interrupted by stating that she never mentioned Mark Dixon and that her statement was “not up for a debate.”  She said that she wanted to read her statement into the record because she wants to “protect herself.”  She stated that draft minutes get onto “Haw Men Choo” all the time. Sanchez said “nothing is protected.”

Haw Men Choo is a forum on Face Book operated by former Council member ReGina Joyce Zuni.  The forum allows people to post comments about Isleta tribal government.

Secretary Verna Teller said that when she realized that the minutes contained discussion from the executive session, she immediately requested the Council members to return the draft minutes to her.   She said the only person not returning the minutes was Sanchez.  She said it was not intentional on her part to include notes from the executive session.

Teller also said that she takes issue with the comment about draft minutes getting on “Haw Men Choo.”  Sanchez immediately responded by saying that she did not mean the “minutes per se.”   She only meant that issues that the Council discussed are getting onto the Haw Men Choo.

President Lente brought the matter to a close by asking the Council to adjourn.

Council adjourned at 12:56 p.m.


By Christopher Abeita

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