Governmental Secrecy vs. Your Right to Know

symbolCouncil Bylaws

On January 20th, the Isleta Tribal Council discussed the “Bylaws” of the Council.   In theory, the Council’s bylaws are supposed to control HOW the Council conducts their meetings. The problem is that prior Councils have not followed their bylaws.  Or, they selectively comply or enforce their bylaws.

Of course, all the Council Members thought it was a good idea for the Council to have bylaws.  

Council Member Ulysses Abeita questioned provisions in the bylaws concerning “confidentiality.” He felt that the Tribe had a right to know everything that the Council discussed with the exception of whatever they discuss during executive sessions.  He believes Council Members should be able to freely discuss what is happening at Council meetings with the community.

Abeita was concerned, however, that someone could accuse him of violating the bylaws, if he discussed whatever happens at a Council meeting with a Tribal Member.  

Secretary Barbara Sanchez felt that in today’s world — information is no longer kept within our Tribe. She said, everything gets on Facebook and then the “State” finds our information along with the whole world.  She then said it wasn’t right for the Tribe’s financial information to get out. 

Ulysses Abeita felt that it was very important for the Tribe to know what the Council was doing. He stated, that he believes very strongly in Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech. He was concerned that the “confidentiality” provisions in the bylaws would impair those freedoms.

Council Member Betty Lente felt that the Tribe should be publishing more information for the people to see.  She explained, that they are doing the business of the people and the people have a right to know what they are doing. She said, that they [the Council] had to use their discretion.  But, that they needed to make sure that information is getting to the Tribe.

Secretary Sanchez complained that Council Members are not keeping information confidential even when they discuss it during an executive session.  She said, the information is getting onto Facebook the same day and that Council Members are not honoring their rules.

Ultimately, the Council directed Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla to ensure that the bylaws were in compliance with the Tribal Constitution. They then decided that they will each review the bylaws and provide further suggestions for possible changes.

EDITORIAL COMMENT

The Council should have bylaws to control HOW they conduct their meetings.  But, in reality, as soon as the “bylaws” become inconvenient, the Council will likely ignore them or “waive” them depending on the politics of the moment.

Nevertheless, Ulysses Abeita raised an extremely critical issue, which is “confidentiality” of information. Prior Councils have used their “Bylaws” and “Code of Ethics” to maintain governmental secrecy. Or, to use their word “confidentiality.”

So, the question is:

WHAT information should our government keep confidential?

Or, to say it differently:

WHAT information should Tribal Officials be able to HIDE from you?

Undoubtedly, virtually every Tribal Member would agree that our Tribe should keep certain information “confidential.” But, the Council needs to carefully define WHAT information our government is able to keep secret.

But, they don’t.  And, if they did, then where the hell are their POLICIES & RULES about confidentiality.  The Council keeps their actual rules “confidential,” which prevents us from understanding why they are keeping information “CONFIDENTIAL.” 

Our Tribal Officials are selective in what they decide to publish in the Tribal Newsletter.  Don’t be fooled by any Tribal Official that claims that they are providing the people with  information. They are not.

For decades, our Tribe has had Tribal Officials that believe every shred of meaningful information generated by our government should be kept secret. This prevents the TRIBE from holding our government officials accountable.

For instance, “we the people” can’t even get “official” information of PUBLIC Council meetings without having to beg Tribal Officials. Without that information, how do we decide whether our Tribal Officials are doing a good job or not? How do we hold them “accountable”?

Meeting minutes, the official record of the Council, should be easily accessible to any Tribal Member without having to beg any tribal official. Hell, you can’t even get copies of laws, policies, rules and ordinances without filling out a form and justifying why you want their damn laws.

We also have a right to know HOW they are spending OUR money. Why is that a secret?

The Council spends millions of dollars every year. Yet, our tribal officials believe that we don’t have the right to know where that money is going because it’s “confidential.”

At the yesterday’s meeting, Council Member Barbara Sanchez complained about information getting onto  “Facebook.”

We all know that she’s complaining about “Haw Men Choo” along with this blog “Isleta Pueblo Politics.” 

Haw Men Choo is a Facebook page created by former Council Member ReGina Joyce Zuni.  It’s an independent page that discuses the governmental affairs of Isleta.

Of course, Isleta Pueblo Politics (IPP) is my blog.  It can also be found on Facebook.  Haw Men Choo and IPP are independent of one another and they are certainly independent of the Isleta Tribal Government.

Sanchez complained to the Council that they will soon discover that people on the “outside” are learning information from Facebook about the Tribe. And, that those people will question them about that information.

If that’s happening, then that’s EXCELLENT.  The entire world should know:

That many of our Tribal Officials are violating the Tribal Constitution;

That our government is failing to protect the community;

That our government is wasting millions of dollars;

That our government maintains tribal enterprises that are losing thousands and thousands of dollars;

That our government is keeping our people in the dark;

That our government fails to publicize its laws; &

That our government fails to provide our people with due process and equal protection of the law.

And, we should hope that every day, someone in our Tribe or in the “outside” world will question our Tribal Officials about the issues discussed on “Haw Men Choo” or “Isleta Pueblo Politics.”

When you see our Council Members and Governors, you have every right to ask them questions about our government and what they are doing or failing to do.  You have the right to know why our Tribal Enterprises are losing money. You have the right to know how they vote on every single issue that they vote on.

Very little information should be kept “confidential” by our Tribal Government. We should have very clear laws on:

WHAT type of information is being kept confidential;

WHY it is being kept confidential; &

For HOW long information will be kept confidential.

The same is also true with respect to “executive sessions” of the Council.  An “executive session” is a secret meeting of the Council. It allows the Council to kick out tribal members from their meetings.  

Prior Councils have used their “Executive Sessions,” with the advice of the Tribal Attorney Pablo Padilla, to do many dirty deeds. So, we need strict laws controlling “Executive Sessions” to prevent Tribal Officials from abusing their authority.

Again, our Tribe needs clear laws on:

WHEN a Council may enter into an executive session;

HOW they may enter an executive session; &

WHAT they may do during their executive sessions.

We need to give close attention to the information that our Tribal Officials are keeping SECRET. 

Thankfully, Ulysses Abeita is taking the lead on questioning the Council’s current policies on “confidentiality.”  Good Job Uly!

 

[Note: Secretary Barbara Sanchez did not raise the issue of suspending Verna Teller from the Council at yesterday’s meeting].

 

Eliminating Political Opposition

3 Replies to “Governmental Secrecy vs. Your Right to Know”

  1. In the state of the union address everything was clearly laid out and there was an addendum. I think tribal officials ought to use the same system of transparency and allow an audience and people to voice their opinions on issues pertaining to.

  2. Its a shame, that after 4 years our tribe cant get a grip on the Ethics code. Some council members should of not even been able to run this term. All minutes should be made public. Council works for the people. Creator sees all.

What are your thoughts?