03/20/13

Council Confirms Renee Torres As Associate Judge

Below, you will find highlights of the issues the Isleta Tribal Council discussed during their meeting on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

All Council members present.

Governor Eddie Paul Torres Sr. and Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi present.

Lt. Governor Isidor Abeita absent.

Governor’s Report

Residential Leases

Governor Eddie Paul Torres requested approval of a residential lease for Joseph R. Lucero, Jr.  Vice-President Michael Allen Lente motioned to approve such lease.  Motion carried with 11 in favor, 0 opposing and 1 abstaining.  (Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero abstained because the residential lease was for his son).

Governor Torres requested approval of a residential lease for Jose Richard Lucero.  Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero made the motion to approve such lease. Motion carried 11 in favor, 0 opposing and 1 abstaining. (Council member Barbara Sanchez abstained because the lease was for her brother).

ICDBG GRANT

Council member Josephine Padilla asked Governor Torres to respond to a letter from Denny James, Executive Director of the Isleta Pueblo Housing Authority (IPHA) concerning the Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) application.

At a prior meeting, the Isleta Tribal Council directed Governor Torres to decide whether the Pueblo would apply for the grant directly or whether the IPHA would apply for the grant. Thereafter, Mr. James sent Governor Torres several e-mails asking the Governor what he decided to do concerning the grant application.

Governor Torres did not respond to the e-mails from the Executive Director. So, Mr. James sent Governor Torres and the Council a letter concerning the grant application.  The deadline to apply for the grant was fast approaching. This meant the IPHA would not have sufficient time to complete all necessary tasks to apply for the grant. So, Council member Padilla was concerned whether the Governor took appropriate action to apply for the grant on behalf of the Pueblo.

Governor Torres stated that he did not appreciate the letter from Mr. James. He felt the letter was “disrespectful.”  Torres stated that James was pointing fingers. He explained that the Pueblo was going to apply for the grant. Torres said he wanted to use the grant money to pay the costs to fix drainage issues at Moonlight Drive.

Council member Padilla told Governor Torres that the application deadline already passed. Governor Torres said he was not sure about the deadline and that “it [the grant] was applied for” because he directed the Planning Department to submit the grant application. He told the Council that he will confirm whether the Planning Department submitted the application.

The Council plans to call in the Executive Director, Denny James, and the Board of Commissioners for the IPHA along with IPHA’s attorney, Denise Zuni. The Council wants to ask questions about the housing program. Some of the Council members want Governor Torres to have supervisory authority over Mr. James.

COUNCIL CONFIRMS LAWRENCE LUCERO AS NEW CHIEF JUDGE

The Isleta Tribal Council confirmed Lawrence “Larry” Lucero as the new Chief Judge of the Isleta Tribal Courts. On March 12, 2013, the Council questioned Lucero about his qualifications.  The Council delayed voting on confirmation until the full Council was present.

Council member Juan Rey Abeita asked Lucero about his educational background and whether he had formal law training.  Lucero stated that he had a Bachelors degree in Education. But, he did not have formal legal training. He explained that his service as a Lt. Governor will help him serve as the Chief Judge.

Council member Abeita also asked Lucero to explain what leadership qualities he had that will make him a fair and honest judge. Lucero explained that throughout his life he held numerous traditional positions with our Pueblo, which have helped him to understand our customs and traditions. Lucero believes his knowledge of our customs and traditions and his experience at the Santa Fe Indian School will allow him to be a fair and honest judge.

Governor Torres advised the Council that the Human Resources department will set up training for Lucero.  Torres stated he believes that “it is in the best interests” of the community for Lucero to serve as Chief Judge because of Lucero’s “way of life, his demeanor and his patience.”

The Council excused Lucero from the meeting to allow the Council to vote on his confirmation. Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero asked whether the Council was going to move into executive session. Council member Lucero stated that he did not understand the Council’s “disparate treatment” of him during his confirmation process. He asked, “are we gonna follow the same standard?”

Secretary Teller responded by explaining that the Council was taken by surprise by his [Cougar’s] nomination. She told Council member Lucero that you are an “elected official and you are on the Council” and that is the “big difference.”

Council member Lucero replied, “I’m still a tribal member even though I’m on the Council. I wonder why I wasn’t treated fairly and equitably.”  Lucero said, “For me, you met behind closed doors. When we set a standard we need to follow it.”  Lucero said he believes in “fair and equitable treatment for all tribal members.”

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente brought the discussion to an end by making a motion for the Council to vote by secret ballot to confirm Lawrence Lucero as Chief Judge.  Douglas Jiron seconded the motion.  The motion carried 11 in favor, 0 opposing and 1 abstaining (Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero abstained).

The Council then voted by secret ballot.  Sheriff Raymond Jojola collected and read the ballots.  Lawrence Lucero received 9 yes votes for confirmation and 3 no votes.  Lucero received a two-thirds majority vote as required by the Isleta Tribal Constitution to serve as the new Chief Judge of the Isleta Tribal Courts.

COUNCIL CONFIRMS RENEE TORRES AS ASSOCIATE JUDGE

Governor Eddie Paul Torres explained that his daughter, Renee Torres, submitted an application to serve as an Associate Judge.  So, the Governor removed himself from the appointment process. He asked Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi to take responsibility of selecting the Associate Judges along with Olin Calderon, Human Resources Director.

Lt. Chewiwi interviewed Ms. Torres and he determined that Torres will have the “courage to interpret what the law requires and she will have the integrity not to be influenced by race or politics.” Chewiwi finds that Torres has “understanding, open-mindedness, compassion, humility and common sense.” He then introduced Ms. Torres to the Council.

Ms. Torres explained that she graduated in 2003 from the University of New Mexico School of Law. She worked briefly for the Law Office of Denise Zuni. She then began working as a Public Defender. She has been serving as a criminal defense attorney for nine (9) years.

Ms. Torres stated that she has extensive experience in conducting jury trials and bench trials. She handled approximately 30 cases daily in court.  She said she understands the constitutional rights of individuals and the obligation of the State to prove its case.

Council member Larry Jaramillo asked, “How would you not be influenced by your father?”  Ms. Torres explained that her father served the Pueblo as the Director of Housing and a Lt. Governor for the Pueblo, and that he does not bring his work home.  Torres said, she is the same way, she separates work from home.  Ms. Torres also explained that judges have ethical obligations and that she will not discuss issues with her family.

The Council excused Ms. Torres from the meeting to vote on her confirmation.  Council member Douglas Jiron recused himself from voting because Ms. Torres is his niece.  Council member Cynthia Jaramillo stated that it was not necessary for him to recuse himself because the Pueblo’s Ethics Code only prohibits Council members from voting on issues concerning immediate family members such as spouses, siblings or children.  The Ethics Code did not apply to cousins.

Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, confirmed Jaramillo’s interpretation of the Ethics Code. Padilla stated that the Code required Council members to disclose their family relationship with a person before voting on a particular matter.  Nevertheless, Council member Douglas Jiron decided that he would recuse himself from voting on the confirmation.

Council members Phillip Jiron and Joseph “Cougar” Lucero both disclosed that Ms. Torres was their cousin. But, they decided that they would vote on her confirmation.

Vice-President Michael Allen Lente made a motion to confirm Renee Torres as the Associate Judge by secret ballot.  Council member Juan Rey Abeita seconded the motion.  The motion carried 11 in favor, 0 opposed 0 abstaining. (Council member Douglas Jiron recused himself).

The Council then voted by secret ballot. Sheriff Raymond Jojola collected and read the ballots. Ms. Torres received 11 votes in favor of confirmation and 0 votes in opposition.

COMANCHE RANCH

Chip Martin, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of the Isleta Business Corporation (IBC), and Martin Abeita, Manager of the Comanche Ranch gave a report to the Council on the Pueblo’s cattle enterprise.

Chip Martin commented that the Comanche Ranch has been a “retirement homes for cows.”  Abeita and Martin explained that they have developed a plan to get rid of the old cows and replace them with younger cows.

Council member Larry Jaramillo asked, “How much longer until we see a profit?”  Chip Martin stated that the Comanche Ranch will break even in 2013 and 2014 as long as cattle prices do not drop.

Council member Cynthia Jaramillo asked, “What is the real plan for the ranch? What is the goal?” She said all she sees in the plan is a “rotation of cattle, but no profit.”

Martin Abeita explained that one of the long term goals for the Ranch is to possibly sell consumable beef.  He would like to form a partnership with the Hard Rock Casino, the Elderly Center, and the Tribe’s schools.  So, they can buy the cattle as consumable beef.   However, the Ranch Manager said, “There is a lot of red tape.”

The Council adjourned for Lunch.

AFTERNOON SESSION

The Isleta Tribal Council reconvened at approximately 1:15 p.m.  All Council members were present along with Lieutenant Governor Chewiwi. Governor Eddie Paul Torres arrived approximately 20 minutes later.

PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Jennifer Jojola and Joe Anzara were the only members of the Constitutional Task Force Committee to attend the meeting. All other Task Force members had prior work commitments or were unavailable to attend for various reasons.

The Isleta Tribal Council was supposed to discuss the proposed amendments to the Isleta Tribal Constitution, which the Constitutional Task Force developed. At a prior meeting, the Council directed the Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, to review and comment on the proposed amendments.

Instead, from 1:15 p.m. to 4:10 p.m. the Council accomplished nothing.

The Council and the two members of the Task Force discussed their roles concerning the proposed amendments. Council members wanted to review the proposed amendments.  The Task Force, however, did not believe it was appropriate for the Council to review the proposed amendments.

Apparently, at a prior meeting, Jennifer Jojola wanted the Task Force to present the proposed amendments to the community. The Task Force wanted the Council to participate in the process as tribal members not as Council members. Council member Josephine Padilla told Jojola that she did not agree.  Padilla along with Council member Douglas Jiron told Jojola and Anzara that they wanted the Council to review the proposed amendments before sending anything out to the community.

Ms. Jojola explained that for the past two (2) years the invested “a lot of time and energy” into developing the proposed amendments. Jojola stated that they gave a “draft” document to the Council. They did this to show that the Task Force was working.

Secretary Verna Teller stated that she read the proposed amendments.  She felt, however, that some of the proposed amendments were “scary.”  She said the Tribe would be moving backward instead of forward with the proposed amendments.  This is why the Council asked the Tribal Attorney, Pablo Padilla, to review the proposed changes.

Jennifer Jojola stated, “You should have just used the Tribal Attorney in the first place, from the beginning.” Jojola stated that the Task Force wants to “protect and preserve” our customs and traditions. This is the purpose behind their proposed amendments.

For the next three (3) hours, the Council debated the role of the Task Force and the role of the Council in developing proposed amendments. Vice-President Michael Allen Lente finally commented, “The more I listen to everyone’s comments and discussion, the more confused I get.”

Jenifer Jojola wanted the Council to give the Task Force one more month to finalize the proposed amendments. Council member Cynthia Jaramillo told Jojola, “you have been given ample time to get your work product together. There is a lot of tension and a lot of friction in here.”

Council member Barbara Sanchez stated that she wanted to make a motion to authorize the legislative and executive branches to review the proposed amendments and an “April 19th” memorandum containing recommendations from the previous Council and Judges along with the recommendations from the Task Force.

Governor Torres did not want to be included in the motion.

So, Sanchez amended her motion to exclude the Governor. Council member Cynthia Jaramillo seconded the motion.  The motion carried 8 in favor, 3 opposed and 0 abstaining.  Vice-President Michael Allen Lente and Council members Fernando Abeita and Joseph “Cougar” Lucero voted against the motion.

Pablo Padilla, the Tribal Attorney, recommended that the Council allow him to draft a resolution requesting a Secretarial Election to amend only Article Seven of the Isleta Tribal Constitution, Article Seven concerns “Removal and Recall” of elected and appointed officials.

Padilla explained that he had four (4) reasons for his recommendation:

  1. Article Seven would be easier to amend because such section was self-contained.  Padilla explained that amending other articles of the Constitution would be much more difficult because language affecting one article was scattered throughout the Constitution. So, amending Article Seven would be easier because it would not have any affect on other provisions of the Constitution.
  1. Article Seven concerns a “high profile issue,” which the Isleta Appellate Courts are not addressing. He stated that the Court is not doing anything to render a decision in the Diane Peigler case.
  1. It would allow the Council to fix what the Pueblo started in 1990.  According to Padilla, when the Pueblo amended the Constitution in 1990, the Pueblo should have included Article Seven.
  1. The expectation of the problem of removing and recalling an elected or an appointed official is high.  Padilla stated that the Pueblo faced removal and recall several times. Governor Robert Benevides, Council members Diane Peigler and ReGina Joyce Zuni faced removal and recall. So, Padilla believes there is a high likelihood of the problem reoccurring.

Padilla also explained that amending Article Seven would allow the Council “to get out of a rut and move forward.”

President James Abeita directed Padilla to submit something in writing to the Council concerning his recommendation.

**Council member Joseph “Cougar” Lucero left the meeting at 4:04 p.m.

Secretary Verna Teller made a motion for the Council to dedicate four (4) hours of time to develop a protocol, with the assistance of legal counsel, on a process for amending and revising the Constitution.  Council member Juan Rey Abeita seconded the motion.  The motion carried 11 in favor, 0 opposed and 0 abstaining.

Council member Juan Rey Abeita made a motion for the Council to conduct a meeting on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, to regroup, refocus and revisit the Council’s priorities.  Fernando Abeita seconded the motion. The motion carried 9 in favor, 1 opposed and 1 abstaining. Vice-President Michael Allen Lente opposed and Council member Cynthia Jaramillo abstained.

TASK FORCE FOR MEMBERSHIP

Terry Lente the President of the Task Force for Membership sent a letter to President James Abeita. She wanted the Council to place the Task Force on the agenda to ask the Council to add a proposed amendment to the Constitution to lower the Isleta blood quantum from one-half to one-quarter.  President Abeita read the letter to the Council. To review the letter, click the following link: Task Force Letter.

Council member Cynthia Jaramillo immediately stated that it was premature for the Council to entertain a motion on Ms. Lente’s request.  She stated that the Council should hold on to the letter and address it at another time.

Council member Barbara Sanchez stated that the Council delegated the blood quantum issue to the Tribal Enrollment Committee (TEC). She said the TEC was supposed to discuss the issue and decide whether the Pueblo should find some other way to decide membership without using a blood quantum.

Ms. Lente stated that she was only requesting the Council to place her on a future agenda so she could discuss the membership issue.

To appease Ms. Lente, Council member Sanchez told Lente that the Council was listening to her now. The Council gave Ms. Lente maybe one (1) minute to speak to them. Lente said the Task Force wanted the Council to allow the people to vote on lowering the blood quantum.  She stated that the quarter-bloods are already an essential part or our community. She tried to explain that the membership issue was of critical importance to the Pueblo. She also tried to discuss how a prior Council enacted the Residency Ordinance, which violates the rights of members.

Ms. Lente could see that the majority of the Council members were not paying attention to her because they were busy gathering up their papers to conclude their meeting.  Ms. Lente’s efforts were futile.

The Council did not discuss the matter. They thanked Ms. Lente for her comment and concluded the meeting.

The Council adjourned at 4:30 p.m.


By Christopher Abeita