Isleta Pueblo Politics

By Christopher L. Abeita

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Tribal Governmental Secrecy – Proposed Amendment #6

The election on the proposed amendments to the Isleta Tribal Constitution is fast approaching.

Proposed Amendment No: 6 gives voters’ three choices:

Option 1 – Reduces the number of council members from 12 to 7. It also allows the Council to conduct meetings with only 5 members present.

Option 2 – Reduces the number of council members from 12 to 9. It allows the council to conduct meetings with only 7 members present.

Option 3 – Is “No Change.” This allows us to keep 12 members on the Council and it requires 8 members to be present for meetings.

secrecy

Reducing the number of council members is very dangerous to our Tribe.

First, a smaller Council creates a greater likelihood of stricter governmental secrecy. Yes, this is a problem that we already have with a 12 member council.  But, with a smaller Council the problem is greater because it becomes much easier for them to impose and maintain governmental secrecy. It’s much harder for them to keep secrets when we have more people on the Council.

Governmental secrecy is not good for our Tribe. It allows tribal officials to escape accountability and cover up dirty deals. It also enables government officials to take actions for their own personal benefit at the expense of the Tribe. Further, a smaller council is more likely to take actions that are unlawful because they know that they will be able to keep their actions hidden.

By maintaining 12 persons on the Council, it gives us a better likelihood that we will eventually discover what the Council is doing despite their efforts to maintain governmental secrecy.

Depending on who gets elected, each Council develops their own style or method of doing business. For instance, some Councils are more secretive than others.

With the current Council, even though we might disagree with their decisions, they are much more open than the previous Council. On this Council, we have several members that recognize the importance to keep their meetings public. With open meetings, the Council is less likely to take actions that are self-serving or in violation of the Constitution.

In contrast, the prior Council consistently violated the Isleta Tribal Constitution. They were able to accomplish their unlawful actions, in large part, because of governmental secrecy. They had excessive meetings in their “executive sessions”, which allowed them to cover up their actions.

How did the prior Council violate the law?

They suspended elected officials from office. You will not find anything in the Constitution that empowers the Council to suspend an elected official.

They unlawfully removed elected officials from the Council in violation of the Constitution because they failed to follow all steps for removal as specified by our Constitution.

They failed to comply with Constitutional requirements for approval of laws. They created an “Ethics Code” to maintain governmental secrecy. Despite the name of their Code, its actual purpose was to eliminate opposition by punishing council members that were expressing minority viewpoints.

The previous Council had absolutely no regard for the Isleta Tribal Constitution. They got away with violating the Constitution because our Judges and Justices failed to render decisions on serious constitutional conflicts.

Second, reducing the number of council members eliminates diversity of thought. To make good decisions, our Council needs diversity of thinking.

Diverse thinking creates a better chance that the Council will see different methods of resolving critical problems that our Tribe is facing.  Does it always happen? No.  Nevertheless, it remains vital to keep a 12 member council because with more persons, then it is more likely that there will be alternative viewpoints expressed, which will give them a better chance at finding good solutions.

The strength of our Council comes from the diversity of its members. Their diverse backgrounds in education, life experience, careers, values, etc. benefits our Tribe. Ideally, our council members would listen and learn from each other. We need our Councils to do their best at seeing issues from different perspectives.

Yes, it may take longer for more council members to reach a consensus. But, the process of reaching a consensus is more likely to better serve our Tribe. Eliminating voices on the Council only serves to limit ideas. Most significantly, reducing the number of people that serve on the Council silences our voices.

On proposed Amendment #6 – I hope that you’ll choose Option 3, which is “No Change.”

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By Christopher Abeita

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