Council Suspends Ethics Code

Yesterday, June 13, 2013, the Isleta Tribal Council suspended the Isleta Ethics Code.

Council Member (CM) Fernando Abeita motioned to suspend the Ethics Code until the tribal court renders a judgment on a “case” concerning the Code; and for the Council to look at amending the “entire” contents of the “Code” after the court makes a decision on the case. Secretary Verna Teller seconded the motion.  The motion carried 6 in favor, 5 opposed and 0 abstaining.

Voting in Favor:

Fernando Abeita

Verna Teller
Larry Jaramillo
James Abeita
Josephine Padilla
Michael Allen Lente
Voting Against:

Juan Rey Abeita

Joseph “Cougar” Lucero
Cynthia Jaramillo
Phillip Jiron
Douglas Jiron


CM Barbara Sanchez was absent.

CM Douglas Jiron stated that he opposed because he didn’t think it was right to do away with the Code.

CM Fernando Abeita responded by saying that the motion was to suspend the Code.

I’ll provide a report on the Council’s discussion to suspend the Code in an upcoming article.

*** The Council DID NOT discuss the following information during their June 13th meeting. ***

In his motion, CM Fernando Abeita made reference to a “case” pending before the Isleta Tribal Court.  He was referring to a case involving CM Cynthia Jaramillo, the Ethics Board, the alternate Ethics Board and the Ethics Code.

During the previous term, CM ReGina Joyce Zuni filed an ethics complaint against CM Jaramillo. The Ethics Board conducted a hearing and determined that Jaramillo violated the Ethics Code.  Jaramillo complained to her allies on the previous Council. As a result, the previous Council amended the Code on July 19, 2012, to circumvent the Board’s decision.  They did this to help Jaramillo avoid accountability.

Section 6(A) of the Ethics Code states:

“[A] decision made by the Ethics Board shall be final and cannot be appealed.”1

The provision is clear. A person found guilty of violating the Code cannot appeal. So, the previous Council had to find a way to bypass Section 6(A).

How did they do it?

The previous Council amended the Code to add the following language:

“. . . . A complaint filed against the entire Ethics Board shall be submitted to the President of the Tribal Council, who shall instruct Tribal Council to appoint an alternate three member Board to review the complaint and otherwise hear the matter.”2

Once Jaramillo submitted her complaint, her allies on the previous Council appointed an “alternate Ethics Board” to investigate the Members of the original Ethics Board.

What happened?

The “alternate Ethics Board” began their investigation.  At that time, the original Ethics Board selected Verna Teller to represent them. You must remember that these events were occurring during the previous term. So, Teller was not yet serving on the current Council.

Teller took legal action, before the Isleta Tribal Court, to stop the “alternate Ethics Board.” Before the case could be resolved, the election for a new Council and Governor occurred.  Soon, thereafter, the terms for the 2011-2012 officials came to an end.

Who were the officials at that time?

The Isleta Tribal Council for 2011-2012 included:

Fred R. Lujan; President
Joseph “Cougar” Lucero; Vice-President
Barbara J. Sanchez; Secretary
Cynthia L. Jaramillo
Mark D. Dixon
Josephine Padilla
Fernando J. Abeita
Leonard J. Abeita
Moses E. Lujan
Robert Benevides* (Benevides resigned.)
Diane Peigler (Removed from office by the Tribal Council)
ReGina Joyce Zuni (Removed from office by the Tribal Council)

Larry Jaramillo* (Jaramillo was elected to fill the vacancy created by Benevides.)

The Executive Officials for 2011-2012 included:

Frank Lujan; Governor
Eddie Paul Torres; 1st Lt. Governor
Antonio Chewiwi; 2nd Lt. Governor

Most likely, you never learned that the Ethics Board made a ruling against CM Cynthia Jaramillo because her  political allies from 2011-2012 prevented the Ethics Board from publishing its decision in the Isleta Tribal Newsletter.

Yes, these are the same officials that preach about “integrity” and “accountability” for the People of Isleta.  These officials prevented the Ethics Board from fulfilling its obligations under the Ethics Code.

What happened?

The Ethics Code states:

“Upon finding that there has been violation of any provisions of the Ethics Code, the Ethics Board may impose . . . . [The] [i]ssuance of a written public reprimand, which shall be entered into such person’s permanent record of office and upon the permanent record of the public office or entity of which such person is a member.” 3

After the Ethics Board determined that CM Cynthia Jaramillo violated the Ethics Code, the Board imposed sanctions on Jaramillo. Pursuant to the Code, one of those sanctions included a public reprimand. So, Chairwoman Sharon Lente-Burch took the Board’s decision to the Editor of the Isleta Tribal Newsletter for publication. The Editor, Ulysses Abeita, would not publish the decision unless Governor Frank Lujan gave his approval.  Ultimately, Governor Lujan and the previous Council did not allow the Ethics Board to publish the decision. 

Isn’t that odd?

I thought that the Ethics Code was enacted to “require accountability” of all tribal officials. It was supposed to ensure that the People of Isleta have “complete confidence” in the “integrity” of their government. 

The Code expressly authorizes the Ethics Board to publish their decision. Yet, Governor Frank Lujan and the prior Council disregarded the Code to prevent the Board from fulfilling their duties. Why? To protect CM Cynthia Jaramillo. As a result, Jaramillo and her political allies were able to prevent you from learning about the ruling against her.

What does all of this demonstrate?

It shows that the purpose of the “Ethics Code” is not to give the people accountability. It shows that our officials had no hesitation in manipulating and violating the Code to protect one of their political allies.

Why should you care?

You should care because while the previous Council and Administration were busy with their political infighting the real problems of our Tribe grew worse.

What problems?  Ask CM Juan Rey Abeita, at the May 23rd meeting, he stated that the Isleta Elementary School has had 9 different principals over the last 7 years. Why so many principals?

Los Lunas officials also voiced concern to our leadership that the children coming from Isleta Elementary were far behind in their education compared to the other children at Los Lunas. Why are they behind in their education? What exactly is occurring at Isleta Elementary to prevent Isleta children from receiving a quality education?

The problems at Isleta Elementary did not start this year.  Those problems started long ago. Who were the people in office when those problems began? Who was on the Council? Who were the officials that failed to address those problems?

Perhaps, if the prior Administration and Council weren’t so busy violating the Constitution and playing politics, they would’ve addressed those problems effectively. But, they didn’t. 

All of us need to start caring. The Governor, the Council, the Judges and Justices have a direct impact on our lives, the lives of our children, our grand-children and all future generations. So, when you hear tribal officials preaching about “integrity,” ask them what solutions are they proposing to the real problems at Isleta Elementary, the Casino, and at the Isleta Business Corporation (IBC). What are they doing to create jobs for our people, provide housing and protect the Tribe’s water rights?

Our Tribe has many other problems that require real solutions and leadership. Will this Administration and Council give us those solutions or will they walk in the same path as the prior Administration and Council?

Please print this article to share with your family and friends who may not have access to the internet.  Thank you.


By Christopher Abeita

  1. Sec. 6(A), Isleta Tribal Council Resolution # 2010-127, “Ethics Code 2010-127.”
  2. Sec. 4(A)(1)(a), Isleta Tribal Council Resolution # 2012-055, “Amending the Pueblo  Ethics Code 2012-055.”
  3. Sec. 5(A)(c), ITCR #2012-055.

What are your thoughts?