Juan Rey Ashke Abeita’s Motion
On November 12, 2014, the Isleta Tribal Council voted in secret to place themselves above the people. Council member Juan Rey Ashke Abeita made the motion that the constitutional amendment on term limits for the Council and the Governor take effect for the 2015-2016 term, which was the legislative intent of the current Tribal Council. Fernando Abeita seconded the motion. The Council voted by secret ballot with 6 in favor, 5 against and 0 abstaining. (Joseph “Cougar” Lucero was absent for the vote).
The Battle on Term Limits
The Council discussed the controversy on term limits for approximately 3 hours before their secret vote.
On September 20, 2014, Tribal Members voted to change our Tribal Constitution to create Term Limits for Council Members. The vote to approve term limits showed that Tribal Members wanted to stop tribal officials from sitting in office term after term.
Many tribal members were asking why Barbara J. Sanchez, Fernando Abeita, Larry B. Jaramillo and Joseph “Cougar” Lucero were still running for office after the people voted in favor of term limits in our Constitution. Governor Eddie Paul Torres and this Council never gave any explanation to the Tribe.
Tribal members wanted an explanation including Charlene Seidl and myself (Christopher Abeita). So, on November 5th, we submitted a letter to the Council asking that they explain why they were ignoring the Constitutional language on term limits. To read the letter, click: Term-Limits.
At the start of the meeting, Barbara J. Sanchez immediately requested President Lente to call in Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla. She wanted to be sure Pablo was present for the discussion on Term Limits. Pablo is the in house attorney for the Tribe.
Attorney David Mielke was also present. Mielke has been the contract attorney for our Tribe since 1997 or 1998.
The discussion began with Cougar immediately demanding to know why President Lente called in Mr. Mielke. Cougar was angry because Lente did not get approval from the the entire Council to include Mielke’s law firm. Lente tried to explain, that he didn’t have time to confer with the entire Council.
Cougar argued, that Attorney Padilla should be the one handling this matter because he is the in house attorney. He felt that the Tribe was wasting its money by involving Mielke because they are duplicating efforts.
Secretary Teller replied, that the Council needed to have a “second pair of eyes” looking at this issue because it’s extremely important to the people.
President Lente said, that he spoke with Teller and the Vice-President because he didn’t have time to get approval from the full Council.
The battle for attorneys is very important because Attorney Pablo Padilla is advocating in favor of Barbara J. Sanchez, Fernando Abeita, Larry B. Jaramillo and Joseph “Cougar” Lucero.
The Council took a break to read a memo from Mielke’s law firm concerning the Term Limits. His firm provided the Council with a written legal analysis. Unlike Pablo, who simply stated his conclusion without any reasoning to support his opinion.
Joseph “Cougar” Lucero left the meeting due to a dental appointment. He was not present for the remainder of the discussion on term limits.
The Council bounced around on several issues concerning the term limit dispute. They couldn’t stay focused and they were often spinning in circles. President Lente was easily confused. As a result, it caused the meeting to fall into disarray.
Refusal to Abstain
In our letter, Ms. Seidle and I requested that the Council require that Barbara J. Sanchez, Larry B. Jaramillo, Fernando Abeita and Joseph “Cougar” Lucero abstain from voting on the term limits dispute because it’s a direct conflict of interest for them to vote against enforcing term limits. By voting, they are able to benefit themselves directly because they can vote against enforcing term limits. By voting, they become self-serving instead of working to serve our Tribe.
Juan Rey Ashke Abeita felt that the Council should allow Barbara and the others to vote. He felt, it would be a conflict of interest for all of the Council Members to vote because nine of them are running for office.
Secretary Teller said, we’re all affected and I have no problem not running. I can step down. I’m not bothered by it. Voting to enforce term limits would reflect the Tribe’s vote on term limits.
James Abeita asked, Barbara, Larry and Fernando whether they would be willing to withdraw their names as candidates since the people voted for term limits. They did not respond. They ignored his question.
Attorney Pablo Padilla told the Council that it was too late to prevent them (Barbara, Larry & Fernando) from voting because the Council already allowed them to speak about the dispute at a prior meeting.
Pablo’s comment shows that he was not neutral. Pablo is the attorney for the Tribe. He is not the attorney for individual Council Members. His job IS NOT to protect Barbara, Cougar or any other individual Council Member. These Council Members are not paying him out of their own pocket. The Tribe is paying Pablo. Yet, he was arguing to help his allies on the Council.
So, essentially, Pablo’s advice was:
Council you already allowed them to speak about this issue. So, it’s too late to stop them from voting.
In other words, Attorney Padilla was advising the Council: Hey, you screwed up once, so you have to continue screwing up.
So, he was encouraging the Council to continue making the same error.
President Lente said, before we vote on this, we need to decide whether this term limits should apply to Larry because he didn’t really serve a full term (2011-2012). Lente said, I don’t think these term limits should apply to anyone right now. But, we should decide on Larry because he didn’t really serve a full term.
Jaramillo was elected to serve out the remainder of the 2011-2012 term. He filled the vacancy created when Robert Benevides resigned in June 2012. Benevides resigned to take care of his wife.
Council Member Cynthia Jaramillo commented that a term is a term and he [Jaramillo] took official action, at that time. So, term limits should apply to him.
But, the majority of Council Members simply said “no” because he didn’t serve a full term; No formal vote was taken. As a result, the only question was whether this Council was going to enforce term limits for Barbara, Cougar and Fernando.
Council President Michael Allen Lente wanted the Council to vote by secret ballot. Council Member Josephine Padilla quickly spoke against voting in secret. Ms. Padilla stated that the vote should be in the open.
Council Member Cynthia Jaramillo spoke in favor of voting in secret because she was fearful of “retaliation.”
So, President Lente asked each Council Member whether they wanted to vote by secret ballot. They responded as follows:
Michael Allen Lente
Larry B. Jaramillo
Barbara J. Sanchez
Juan Rey Ashke Abeita
Joseph “Cougar” Lucero
Will of the People vs. the Council’s Intent
Council Member Barbara J. Sanchez argued strongly, that from the beginning the Council always intended that the term limits apply after this election. Juan Rey Ashke Abeita agreed.
Council Member Phillip Jiron responded, that the Council’s intention didn’t matter and that the Council needed to think about the people because the people voted in favor of term limits. And, they needed to have respect for what the people wanted.
Council Member Fernando Abeita replied, that we received a letter from only two people, Charlene and Chris, and that he appreciates the letter. But, they don’t speak for the people. He said, I’m talking to the people and they are telling me that the term limits shouldn’t apply until the next election.
Ms. Seidl and I began gathering signatures to support our letter. But, we decided that we wouldn’t submit the names of any tribal members because they could suffer retaliation for speaking out. They could lose their jobs or they these officials could find other ways to punish tribal members that voice their opinions.
Barbara also stated, that Chris doesn’t represent the Tribe. He only represents a small group. She said, that her voter’s want her to run again and they should get a chance to decide whether she gets back into office by their votes. She said, she is very proud of her record and that she can give out a résumé of her accomplishments as a Council Member.
Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla spoke up to support Barbara. He stated, Council there is nothing to decide because you already decided this issue. He then made reference to a council meeting that occurred in April. He reminded the Council that Deigo Lujan submitted a letter commenting about the proposed amendments.
Pablo told the Council, that in April one of the comments that Lujan made indicated that the term limits should apply for this upcoming election. But, according to Pablo, the Council disregarded Lujan’s comment as well as several other points that Lujan made in his letter. Therefore, according to Pablo, this showed the Council’s intention was not to enforce term limits for this coming election.
Pablo also argued, that the Council’s intention should carry more weight than the laws contained in the memo from Mielke’s law firm. He said, it was not good for the Council to be looking at the laws of other jurisdictions.
Attorney David Mielke explained to the Council, that it was entirely up to the Council on how they could resolve the dispute. He said, that other jurisdictions do not apply the law retroactive. But, there is also dissenting opinions. This means that these other jurisdictions do not agree on this issue. Unlike Padilla, Mr. Mielke was not pushing or advocating for the Council to move in any specific direction.
Juan Rey Ashke Abeita also argued that we can’t apply the term limits retroactively because of “ex post facto.”
Council Member Josephine asked Mielke whether “ex post facto” applied.
Attorney Mielke made it clear to the Council that “ex post facto” does not apply to the current situation on term limits.
Ex Post Facto prohibits a legislative body from enforcing criminal laws retroactively. It only applies to laws that are enacted by a legislative body.
Pablo has encouraged the Council to treat the Constitutional Amendment on term limits like a piece of legislation. But, it’s not. It’s a constitutional amendment that tribal members voted to adopt. Tribal Members chose to adopt term limits as a part of our Constitution with their vote. It was not the Council. Therefore, the “legislative intent” of the Council is irrelevant because the amendment is not legislation.
The plain language of the Constitution combined with the will of the people as demonstrated by their vote should be controlling. If we are sovereign, then the laws of other jurisdictions are irrelevant. The opinions of Pablo, Mielke, and the federal bureaucrats are all irrelevant. The will of our people should carry more weight.
Indeed, if it’s possible to interpret the Tribal Constitution in two ways, then the Council, the Governor and the Courts should apply the Constitution in a manner that reflects the will of the people. This would help to bring a sense of integrity to our Tribal Government.
But, once again, Juan Rey Ashke Abeita’s motion has proven that our Council is choosing to place there desires before the will of our Tribe. Six Council Members chose to act in their own best interests by refusing to enforce term limits on Barbara Sanchez and the others.
Governor Eddie Paul Torres remained completely silent throughout the entire discussion on Term Limits.
If anyone should have spoken on behalf of the people, it should have been Governor Torres. Tribal members voted for him to be their voice. But, he chose to remain silent with his arms folded.
Governor Torres said nothing when Barbara J. Sanchez and Fernando Abeita chose to vote for themselves. He said nothing when they refused to abstain.
Torres said nothing to encourage the Council to think about their duty to serve the Tribe instead of acting to serve themselves.
Sadly, our tribal officials chose not to give Tribal Members any respect by honoring their vote to approve constitutional term limits.