At issue during the meeting was what to do about the vacancy left by Paul’s removal. Half the Tribal Council wanted a special election to fill the slot. The other half said the vacancy already had been filled, by the selection of former Tribal Council member Mike Baines during a telephone poll.
But the poll was held before new members of the council were sworn in.
“To me, and maybe to other people, it looks like people perhaps might be manipulating these phone polls for their best interest,” said Tanya Bonorden, one of the newly elected council members.
Bonorden is not the only one unhappy with Paul’s removal or its aftermath. Tribal citizens expressed dismay to the council about the removal, and the process of selecting Baines.
“Phone polls are for emergent items, and this was hardly emergent,” said Richard Wein. “This was something the Greeks have a word for. It was called ‘hubris,’ and that means outrageous arrogance.”
David Kanosh, who also seemed to serve as parliamentarian to the council on Wednesday, referred back to the council’s Dec. 1 meeting.
“I thank you for the acknowledgement that we did decide to go with Tlingit law superseding the Constitution,” Kanosh said.
Numerous others spoke, and the arguments for and against a special election seem to put the council into two groups. Those who support the appointment process point to the Tribe’s constitution, which clearly says the Tribal Council “shall appoint” someone to fill a vacancy.
“Just because you might not agree with the stuff, you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen,” said Michael Miller, who also is among the new members of the council. “So we have a record of how the council at that time voted. Unless that was an unconstitutional vote, it’s not for us to say, ‘Well, we’re just going to pretend it didn’t happen.’”
Those in favor of a special election, on the other hand, argued that Tlingit customs and traditions supersede the Tribe’s written constitution. As a result, they say the council should honor the wishes of elders who asked for a special election.
“Tlingit tribal law and custom trump the Constitution,” said council member Dale Williams. “At the very start of it, it’s the basis for it. And that’s why I put Tlingit tribal law on the agenda. I want to hear more from the elders on this.”
The Tribe’s attorney, Jessica Perkins, was not present at Wednesday night’s meeting, but wrote in a memo to the council that the results of the phone poll that appointed Baines on December 1st are valid. According to the memo, presented to the council by General Manager Lisa Gassman, a subsequent vote at that same meeting to hold a special election was unwarranted.
Wednesday’s meeting, called to order at 7 p.m., stretched into Thursday morning, with the council in a stalemate over the matter of whether a special election could be called.
George Ridley was chairing the meeting in the absence of chairman Woody Widmark, who showed up shortly after “Persons to be Heard.”
Ridley, remaining in the chair, ruled the motion for a special election out of order. Williams appealed, a vote was held, a tie occurred, and so Ridley’s ruling failed and debate went on.
Another vote on the special election, another 4-4 stalemate.
A suggestion to postpone the meeting until Perkins could be present was not agreed to. Neither was a suggestion to send the matter to Tribal Court for a decision. Council member Dale Williams, squarely in support of a special election, said he had no confidence in the Tribe’s legal system.
Williams suggested sending the matter to a council of elders, but no one could agree on how many elders that would entail or who would be on the council. That motion was never acted upon.
Finally, John Littlefield, in the audience, stepped to the microphone and suggested someone should ask Baines to decline his appointment to the council, reopening the vacancy. At least that, he said, would move the council past its deadlock.
A motion was made to ask Baines to decline the appointment, and it passed, 6 to 2, with Widmark and Ridley opposing. So, now the future of the election hinges on Baines. Reached Thursday afternoon, he said he plans to accept the appointment.
“The calls and e-mails I received were pretty encouraging and they asked me to accept the position because I stick up for the whole tribe,” he said.
In the meantime, a recall effort appears to be underway against council Widmark. According to the Tribal Constitution, a recall petition would require the signatures of 30 percent of the Tribe’s qualified voters.
The meeting finally adjourned around 2:45 a.m. Thursday.
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