Tribal members push for council term limits

By The Curry Coastal Pilot September 13, 2013 08:12 pm

Sheryl Steinruck, For Your Knowledge Committee, Smith River

Smith River Rancheria (SRR) Tribal members are fed up with longstanding Tribal Council leadership. Tribal members complain they are ignored when “allowed” to address their elected officials with their issues of the Tribe.

For years, the Tribal membership has been unsuccessful in getting the Tribal Council’s attention in acknowledging its General membership’s needs and to answer questions and concerns during annual General membership meetings and at the bi-weekly regular “open” Tribal Council meetings. It appears that the Tribal membership does not exist in the eyes of the Tribal Council.

In March 2013, a handful of Tribal members formed a grassroots transparent group called the For Your Knowledge (FYK) Committee. The mission of the grassroots group is to successfully amend the SRR Constitution to further the advancement of self-determination, self-governance and to exercise tribal sovereignty guaranteed to the Tribe within the Constitution. The FYK Committee’s motto is: “If we don’t exercise our rights, we will lose them.”

The FYK Committee submitted its first attempt to amend the Constitution on April 29, 2013; namely, Initiative No. 1 – To Set Tribal Council Term Limits, which was revised and re-submitted to the Council secretary on May 24, 2013.

In essence, the enacted amendment would allow an incumbent Council member to serve up to two (2) consecutive, three-year terms with a mandatory three (3) year waiting period prior to seeking a subsequent re-election to the Tribal Council. Currently, Council members serve three-year staggered terms. The amendment would affect incumbent Council members who have served six or more years.

The need to amend the Constitution stems from the fact that the current seven-member Tribal Council has not seen an effective change in its composition for the past 12 years when the current Council chairperson was elected to Council. Reportedly, one Council member has been on the Council for 28 consecutive years with another holding office for 16 years or more and another two members serving 12 consecutive years each.

This political-career structure has created a soft authoritarian government that has developed into a “good old boys” monopoly. The current Tribal Council is very comfortable with itself and makes all tribal government decisions behind closed doors during the two special “closed” bi-weekly meetings held every month. It is the Council’s pattern and practice to decide what they want and then “tell” the General membership what they have decided. The General membership is not consulted on any tribal matter whatsoever.

On June 7, 2013, the FYK Committee filed a second piece of legislation with the Council secretary to recall the Tribal Council chairperson pursuant to the Constitution. The Recall Petition alleges the Tribal chairperson has failed to uphold her officer duties. The allegations range from not following legislative policies and procedures, not issuing a written opinion on Initiative No. 1, not authorizing a recount on the 2013 Tribal Council election, and, authorizing a “retroactive” payment on an expired 2012 contract paid to the contractor on May 14, 2013, just four days before the 2013 Tribal Council Election.

From the onset, the Tribal Council has actively opposed and attempted to block Initiative No. 1 and the Recall Petition at every turn while refusing to fulfill its legislative responsibility as outlined in the Constitution and the Election Ordinance.

An embroiled battle has ensued to protect the identity of the Tribal members that have signed. The right to confidentiality and privacy is based on the same premise as voter identity protection when voting in secret ballot elections.

Reportedly, this is a huge concern for Tribal members as Tribal Council members have accosted Tribal members in public places by asking, “Why did you sign the petition?” or stating, “Don’t sign the petition because it is a joke!” This is clearly unethical and an invasion of privacy that can be seen as a form of “bullying” and intimidation.

Many Tribal member employees are fearful of the “political strangulation” that can happen as a result of signing. This “revenge” can be immediate or it could take years to be felt. Consequently, 20 Tribal member employees have opted to not sign either.

The Initiative signature pages will be submitted to the Registrar’s office only after the FYK Committee has received confirmation from the Election Board and the Tribal Council that Tribal member signatures will be protected from Tribal Council perusal and public review. It is important that Tribal members’ rights be protected at all cost.

For more information, visit the FYK Committee website at: www.foryourknowledge.net or our Facebook page.