Local News

Paul removed from STA council

SITKA, ALASKA
Paul, along with three other council members, walked out of that executive session and the rest of the meeting, upset that the discussion of Paul's removal was being done out of public view.

The charges against Paul were leveled by Council Chairman Lawrence “Woody” Widmark. He accused Paul of speaking on behalf of the Tribe without authorization, specifically about STA’s relationship with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC.

He also says Paul made negative remarks toward STA staff during meetings, and pointed to a disorderly conduct conviction Paul received in late September as reasons for his removal.

It came down to a heavily attended meeting of the STA Tribal Council on Wednesday night. The council moved to discuss Paul’s future in an executive session without Paul’s attorney present, which drew sharp criticism from members of the public and from some council members.

“If you’re going to go into closed doors, go into closed doors without me,” Council member Tom Gamble said, “because I’m not going to be any part of setting people up so a Tribal Chairman can work with the Tribal Attorney and three friends to remove anybody from the Tribal Council.”

The motion was then changed to allow Paul’s outside council into the executive session.

Isabella Brady, in the audience, asked to be heard during the meeting, citing “privilege of the floor.” At first her calls went unanswered, but Paul yielded his time for her to speak.

“This is not our traditional way of the Tlingit people,” she said. “Never has been. We always went with what the people want. You see all these people here for a reason. You’re just saying no, you don’t want to hear it. You’ve already made up your minds. That’s not what the country is about.”

The council was accused of not listening to its citizens on more than one occasion Wednesday night. Council member Clara Gray said there are people who feel differently than those who applauded at various times during the meeting.

“I think we have to consider the Tribal citizens that are not here and that have stated their concerns to us,” Gray said. “We did not invite all the people that are concerned here. We are elected officials to speak for them, and so we have concerns to protect our tribal citizens.”

Paul, meanwhile, said he would waive his right to privacy and asked that the charges against him be discussed in the open. The council, though, voted to go into executive session. After about an hour, Paul and Gamble walked out of the session, along with two other members of the council: Dale Williams and Archie Nielsen. Paul’s attorney, Jim McGowan, also left the executive session.

The four who walked out said they wanted the discussion of Paul’s removal to happen in public. And McGowan said while Paul would have been allowed to call witnesses to speak on his behalf, there were limitations placed on what could happen:

“I think they might let the people come into the room, but they wouldn’t let Mr. Paul present his case by asking them questions,” McGowan said. “So I could bring cardboard cutouts in, and I could get just as much out of them as a witness that he can’t ask questions.”

As the five members of the council met in a separate room, various members of the audience took turns at the council microphone speaking against the process the Council was using.

After a while, Paul thanked those in attendance for their support, and then left. As the evening wore on, the room emptied, leaving only a handful of people when the council came back into open session.

The five members remaining – Widmark, Gray, Michael Baines, George Ridley and Rachel Moreno – voted openly to find Paul guilty of neglect of duty and gross misconduct, and then by secret ballot to remove him from the council. The secret ballot total was 5 to zero.

After Wednesday night’s meeting, Widmark declined to comment, deferring instead to Baines, who led the meeting.

Baines said the hearing was held in executive session because of a lawsuit Paul has threatened against the Tribe.

“They gave us a letter from their attorney saying that they intend to sue us for slander, and that if we brought it out into a public forum like this, that would have gave them ammunition to do exactly that,” Baines said.

That letter, written by McGowan and obtained by KCAW, says Paul will take his case to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs if he’s removed, and threatens a slander suit against Council members who vote against Paul.

The letter also spells out responses to the charges against Paul. McGowan argues that the time during which complaints can be filed on some of the charges has expired, and that when Paul spoke to various elected officials, he made clear he was not speaking on behalf of the Tribe. He further argues that Paul did not neglect his duty by not participating on committees, but rather volunteered for one and was not appointed by Widmark.

McGowan also challenges the Tribe’s right to consider Paul’s conviction on disorderly conduct, which was a misdemeanor. The STA Constitution provides for removal of a council member who is convicted of a felony or other offenses involving dishonesty while in office. McGowan added in his letter that Widmark and Baines both were charged with crimes in the past three years. In fact, McGowan is listed as having been Baines’ attorney when he faced charges in 2007.

The complaint against Paul came in a memo dated the day before STA tribal council elections. The council has failed to certify those results on two occasions – the first at its regular meeting on November 17th, and again during a special meeting on November 20th that failed to attain a quorum.

The timing of Paul’s removal has raised questions that the move is politically motivated – an attempt to preserve a majority on the council. That allegation was made in an open letter from a group calling itself the George Paul Legal Defense Fund, and again in a letter from Jim McGowan, Paul’s attorney.

Baines and Widmark both have said Paul’s removal has nothing to do with the November 9th election.
Still, the vacancy clears the way for someone to be appointed to the position. Baines, who was the next-highest vote getter in the election, could be a candidate.

“It’s kind of a stressful thing,” Baines said, “but I did run, so it has its rewards. We do some good things, so I think I might put my name in. Who they choose is up to the council.”

The new terms for those elected to the Tribal Council are set to begin on December 1st. There’s still no word on when certification of the election results will take place.

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