The effort to recall most of the Ketchikan Indian Community’s Tribal Council, including its president, entered a new phase this week. With 243 signatures, the “recall committee” has collected more than enough to advance the process. But the KIC Tribal Council president says at least some of the reasoning that led to the recall effort stands on shaky legal ground.
Richard Jackson, former Grand Camp president for the Alaska Native Brotherhood and chair of the recall committee, says that despite initial reservations, he is pleased with the response from the Native community.
“We didn’t take this lightly. When we started out, I had a little concern that we might not have momentum with this issue,” says Jackson. “But it resonated.”
The effort to hold a referendum on the body and its president, Irene Dundas, began after a controversial May 31st meeting. The Tribal Council had voted to appoint Dundas as temporary KIC administrator; while serving in that role, Dundas fired Human Resources Director Carleen Howard.
The recall targets those members of the council who voted to appoint Dundas to the administrative role. According to Richard Jackson, amendments made to the KIC Constitution this year prevent the president from also serving as CEO. Even more, he says, the firing of Howard was done without just cause.
“We charged them with two areas with which we could recall.” says Jackson. “Those were gross neglect of duty and abuse of power.”
From the Tribal Council’s perspective, the Constitution approved this year does not yet trump the old one, adopted in 1979. This year’s Constitution is still making its way through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, so the tribe still is operating under 1979 rules, according to Irene Dundas.
Dundas admits the process of approving a new constitution is confusing, and says that the Bureau of Indian Affairs probably should be more transparent with how it operates. She even says that a recall election is healthy for the community — a temperature-taking of sorts.
What Dundas does believe, though, is that the original vote on the new constitution was faulty, and thus invalid. She told KRBD in an interview that certain mandatory procedures were not followed. If they were, she says, the public may have been better informed about the issues.
“It’s the process of how the documents were presented to the membership,” says Dundas. “There are possible deficiencies, and that’s the possible invalid for the invalid election.”
The signatures on the petition now move to a review process. From there the Tribal Council has 15 days to vote on the issue. That process may be difficult, however, as members of the Council are prohibited from participating in a recall vote if they themselves are the target of the recall. Only one member of the Council, Delores Churchill, did not participate in the vote and as such is not a target. She was unavailable for comment by deadline for this story.
Carleen Howard, the former human resources director at KIC, declined to comment.