During the meeting on August 12, 2014, Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi requested that the Isleta Tribal Council approve payment of legal fees to the Sonosky Law Firm.
Council member Josephine Padilla asked why their bill included legal fees of approximately $10,000 for water issues. She was concerned because the Tribe has a full time in house attorney that is supposed to be handling water law issues.
Pablo Padilla is the in house attorney for the Pueblo. This means that he works full time for the Pueblo as a tribal employee and he receives a salary. So, Padilla does not bill the Tribe on an hourly basis for his time.
The Tribe also has a contract with the Sonosky Law Firm. This firm provides legal services to the Tribe whenever requested by the Governor or the Tribal Council. This firm then bills the Tribe on an hourly basis for their legal services.
Council member Fernando Abeita explained that during a previous term, Pablo Padilla gave the Tribe an ultimatum. According to Abeita, Padilla told a prior Council that he was a water law attorney and that he would handle the Tribe’s water law issues.
However, Padilla wanted a substantial pay increase to handle the water law issues or else he would quit his job. So, a prior Council approved a very substantial pay increase for Padilla.
Council member Juan Rey Abeita immediately stated that he is opposed to the Council discussing the salaries of employees in front of the public. He did not feel it was appropriate because he said that it was a personnel issue.
Council President, Michael Allen Lente, asked the Council to stay focused on whether to approve the bill from the Sonosky Law Firm. So, the Council approved the payment request.
Do you agree with Council member Juan Rey Abeita? His position is that the Tribal Council should keep the compensation of tribal governmental employees’ secret, er, I mean “confidential.”
Tribal employees are governmental employees. Therefore, they are public employees. Our tribal government pays public employees with your money, your children’s money, our money. So, why shouldn’t we have the right to know how much money our Tribe is paying governmental employees?
If the mentality of people like Council member Juan Rey Abeita prevails, then it will be impossible to give scrutiny to the compensation of governmental employees. In other words, the Council and the Governors will be able to increase salaries of whomever they want without our knowledge – without scrutiny. This means, if our tribal officials like a specific person, then they can give that person a salary increase regardless of whether that person deserves it.
At this point, I do not know whether Pablo Padilla deserved a salary increase. But, I do know that our government is paying him with our money. Therefore, we have a right to know how much money the Council is choosing to pay him or any other governmental employee.
If the Council or Governors believe that, an employee should get a large salary — that’s fine. But, they should be able to justify their decision to us. Why? Because it’s our money, it is money that we entrusted to them to spend wisely.
There is a high threat of governmental abuse when our tribal officials are able to keep the compensation of governmental employees secret. Secrecy enables our tribal officials to make dirty deals. Secrecy prevents us from learning how they are using OUR money. Secrecy allows Tribal officials to escape accountability. So, do you agree with Council member Juan Rey Abeita?