On November 5, 2014, Charlene Seidl and I (Chris Abeita) submitted a letter to the Isleta Tribal Council requesting that they issue a formal decision explaining why the Council is failing to comply with the Isleta Tribal Constitution. To read the letter, click: Constitutional Term Limits.
During the Secretarial Election to amend the Constitution, voters approved an amendment to establish two year term limits to serve on the Tribal Council. The amendment requires a person to sit out one full term after serving two consecutive terms on the Council.
The amendments to the Constitution went into effect on October 8, 2014, according to William T. Walker, Regional Director, of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). To read Walker’s letter, click: BIA Letter.
On October 16, 2014, the Isleta Tribal Council certified the list of persons that registered as candidates for the upcoming election. Included on that list were:
Barbara J. Sanchez — 7 Consecutive Terms or 14 Consecutive Years in Office – (2001 thru 2014)
Larry B. Jaramillo — 2 Consecutive Terms (2011-2012* & 2013-2014 – *Completed Term for Robert Benevides)
Fernando Abeita — 2 Consecutive Terms (2011-2012 & 2013-2014)
Joseph “Cougar” Lucero — 2 Consecutive Terms (2011-2012 & 2013-2014)
Many tribal members are asking: Why is the Council failing to apply the Constitutional provision establishing term limits to Barbara, Fernando, Larry and Cougar?
At the Council meeting on September 2, 2014, Council Member Josephine Padilla asked: “When would the constitutional amendments go into effect on term limits, if approved by voters?”
Pablo Padilla, the Tribal Attorney, told the Council, “my opinion is that the amendments would not apply retroactively for this upcoming election.” But, Padilla did not provide any legal reasoning to support his conclusion.
Attorney Padilla also told the Council that he would get the Solicitor’s opinion on the question of when the term limit provision would apply. The “Solicitor” is an attorney that is employed with the Secretary of Interior/BIA.
The Solicitor’s opinions about the Isleta Tribal Constitution means absolutely nothing. You will not find any language in our Constitution that empowers a “Solicitor” with the federal government to issue binding decisions or opinions as to the meaning of the Tribal Constitution.
So, it is unclear why Pablo Padilla is advising the Council to get the legal opinion of the Solicitor. Indeed, if our Tribe is “sovereign,” then our Council would not seek the opinions of federal bureaucrats on how to interpret and apply the Tribal Constitution.
In fact, the incumbent Council has a duty to resolve “[c]ontroversies and disputes growing out of any election of the pueblo. . . .” Isleta Tribal Constitution, Art. VI, § 17.
The Constitution also obligates the Council to resolve those disputes in conformity with the Constitution. This means that the Council must apply the plain language of the Constitution when resolving an election dispute.
So, what is the plain language of the Tribal Constitution?
The Constitution states:
“No member of the council shall serve for more than two (2) consecutive terms as a member of council. After serving two (2) consecutive terms, such member of council shall be ineligible to serve as member of council until the council member has been out of office at least one full term.” Article V, Section 3.
So, why is this Council ignoring the plain language of the Constitution?
Because it benefits them to interpret the Constitution in manner that allows them to get into office again and again. If they decide that the Constitution will not apply this upcoming election, then that essentially means that this current term will not exist for the incumbent Council Members. In other words, they will all have clean records to run for this upcoming term of 2015-2016 and the following term of 2017-2018.
This Council is ignoring a constitutional amendment that tribal members voted to approve. Yet, they demand that we comply with all of the half-assed ordinances that they’ve adopted. Indeed, they have a full time prosecutor trying to throw you and your family members in jail for violating their ordinances.
Tribal members deserve an explanation to understand the reasoning of this Council in choosing to violate the amendment establishing constitutional term limits. So, when you see these Council Members around the village or at the Casino enjoying a free concert with their families ask them to explain why they are not enforcing term limits.