Today, at 11:00 a.m, the newly elected Council held their first meeting for 2017 to select their officers.
The new officers of the Council are:
Frank Lujan, President;
Douglas Jiron, Vice-President; &
Edward Calabaza, Secretary.
The remaining Council Members include:
Juan Rey Abeita;
Verna Teller; &
Michael Allen Lente.
Yesterday, outgoing Governor Eddie Paul Torres refused to attend the ceremony at the Isleta Elderly Center to transfer the Lincoln Canes to the newly elected Governor Robert Benevides.
Instead, Torres met Benevides at the Governor’s Office and simply turned over the Canes. Torres refused to participate in the public ceremony to transfer the Canes.
On November 26, 2016, Robert Benevides challenged incumbent Eddie Paul Torres for the Governor’s Office. Benevides easily defeated Torres in a landslide. Benevides received 652 votes and Torres received 381 votes.
Governor Benevides selected Max Zuni to serve as the First Lieutenant Governor and Andrew “Tino” Teller to serve as the Second Lieutenant. Benevides also selected Robert “Bobby” Cherino to serve as the Sheriff and Kevin Lente to serve as the Under-Sheriff.
Since Torres refused to attend the ceremony at the Elderly Center, Governor Benevides had to give the Canes to his own Lieutenants and Sheriffs.
CONFLICTS OF INTERESTS
At today’s council meeting, Governor Robert Benevides opened the meeting for the Council. All council members were present.
The following Executive Officials were present:
Governor Robert Benevides;
1st Lt. Gov. Max Zuni;
2nd Lt. Gov. Andrew “Tino” Teller;
Sheriff Robert Cherino; &
Under-Sheriff Kevin Lente.
Governor Benevides made a brief statement of what he would like to accomplish and how he would like to see the Council function for the term. He emphasized that one of his priorities is to ensure that more of our people get jobs with our Tribe. He also hopes that the Council will limit their day long meetings because it prevents the administration from getting their jobs done. He stated that he will do his best to work with the Council for the benefit of our Tribe as a whole.
Lt. Governor Max Zuni addressed the Council. He is very concerned about the loss of our native language. He felt that our people are no longer handing down our language to the younger generations and that we are putting it to side.
Lt. Governor Andrew “Tino” Teller stated that he will also do his best to help the Governor accomplish his objectives.
Council Member Frank Lujan raised the issue about conflicts of interests because Governor Benevides selected Teller to serve as a Lieutenant. Teller is married to Council Member Verna Teller.
Each of the Council Members made comments about the issue. Here are highlights of their discussion:
Council Member Juan Rey Abeita stated that it was a conflict of interest. He said that there is a risk of a sharing of information, misuse of information and a manipulation of each other. He said, it’s just human nature. He said that he will continue to raise it as an issue because it is a serious risk.
Governor Benevides responded that the Constitution allows him to select his Lieutenants and that the issue of “conflicts” is not addressed in the Constitution.
Lt. Governor Teller stated that his role was to help the Governor with his agenda and that he had no agenda of his own.
Council Member Fernando Abeita suggested that perhaps it was not necessary for the Governor to have both Lieutenants at council meetings.
Council Member Michael Allen Lente stated that people ask why are Verna and Andrew both serving at the same time and that people are going to criticize.
Council Member Edward Calabaza stated that it is conflict of interest. He said, it is the perception and perception is everything. He said that there will be an imbalance of power and the problem of undue influence. But, for now, we need to move forward.
Council Member Verna Teller stated, I am my own person. And, yes there is that perception. But, there is a lot of jealousy in our community. I have been in politics for a long time, 30 years ago, I was Governor and I am strong headed, I am an elected official. I do what I think is best and I am not influenced by anyone. I am here for the best interests of the Tribe. And, each of you are here for the best interests of the Tribe. If that is true, then there is no conflict. I question this claim of risk. I am here to serve the Pueblo of Isleta, not Tino. Some of us have been here for a long time. We need to work together. It is not healthy for us to bad mouth each other. We need to work together. We are colleagues.
Council Member Douglas Jiron – The Governor appointed his Lieutenant. The people appointed Verna. If an issue arises, we can address it at that time.
Council Member Juan Rey Abeita – What I am hearing is two things. One is watch and see. This is not a progressive approach. Second, that is the way things were always done. I am raising this issue professionally not to attack anyone. Yes, it is a lot of work but we were elected to address these issues. It is a conflict of interest.
Governor Benevides explained that the Constitution does not prohibit him from appointing someone who might be related to a Council Member. He explained that he gave careful consideration to who he wanted for his Lieutenants because serving as Governor carries a heavy obligation. It’s a difficult job and he needs people that he believes are best capable of helping him fulfill his obligations to the Tribe. He explained that if people believe it is a problem, then perhaps it is necessary to change the Constitution. But, for now, the Constitution allows a Governor to decide who he appoints as Lieutenants.
Governor Benevides made it clear that he is standing behind the Lieutenants that he selected.
SELECTION OF COUNCIL OFFICERS
Governor Benevides asked the Council for nominations for President of the Council. Juan Rey Abeita nominated Frank Lujan and Douglas Jiron nominated Verna Teller. Juan Rey Abeita made a motion to close nominations and for a roll call vote. A roll call vote would require the Council to vote openly to allow everyone to know how the Council Members were voting.
Council Member Edward Calabaza seconded the motion but he wanted Abeita to change his motion so that the vote could be by secret ballot. Juan Rey Abeita refused to amend his motion. So, the motion died.
Council Member Calabaza made a motion to close the nominations and he called for the vote to be by secret ballot. Verna Teller seconded the motion.
Frank Lujan received 4 votes and Verna Teller received 3 votes. Lujan is now President of the Council.
Lujan asked for nominations for Vice-President. Fernando Abeita nominated Verna Teller and Juan Rey Abeita nominated Douglas Jiron.
Verna Teller received 3 votes and Douglas Jiron received 4 votes. Jiron is now the Vice-President.
Verna Teller nominated Edward Calabaza to be Secretary of the Council and Juan Rey Abeita seconded the nomination. There were no other nominations for Secretary. Calabaza is now the Secretary of the Council.
The new Council decided that they will hold their next meeting on Tuesday, January 3, 2016, @ 9:00 a.m.
According to the Constitution, the term of office for the “new” Tribal Council actually begins on January 6th. Until then, the new Council has no lawful authority. The Constitution only permits the Council to meet on January 1st for the sole purpose of selecting the officers of the Council. See, Isleta Tribal Constitution, Article VI, Section 11 and Section 12.