Following allegations of misconduct by members of the election board, five Quechan tribal council members were sworn in last week.
In the Dec. 3 elections, incumbent Virgil S. Smith led with 272 votes, followed by Emilio Escalanti, a previous council member, with 246 votes. Newcomer Michael J.V. Jack won his first election with 242 votes.
Voters also returned another previous council member, Juliana M. Comet, with 217 votes. Incumbent Clivia Cyndee Miller also kept her seat with 221 votes.
However, a week after the elections, the election board posted a notice announcing that two tribal members were contesting the results, as reported by the Quechan News.
Three tribal members initially contested the election results, alleging misconduct by the election board members, but one was discarded because the person did not file an affidavit, as required by law, explained Keeny Escalanti, tribal president.
The other two tribal members were given the opportunity to voice their concerns during a Dec. 28 community meeting. According to tribal ordinance, “an open meeting of the Quechan Community must be held to resolve these conflicts before any Certificate of Election can be issued for the candidates to serve on the Tribal Council ... .”
With Brian Golding, the tribe's building and economic development director, serving as meeting chairman, the two tribal members presented their allegations and proof of evidence. Golding did not return a phone message asking for comment.
Escalanti declined to comment on the specific allegations, noting that they are considered personnel issues.
Tribal member Cristoble Emerson told the Yuma Sun his main allegation centered on an “unresolved issue”: the November termination of election board clerk Priscilla J. Prettybird, also an unsuccessful council candidate.
“She was never told why” she was terminated, Emerson said.
The tribal council appoints members to the election board after they submit letters of interest, Escalanti said.
Emerson said another concern was a “mystery box” sitting next to an election board clerk and the judge who heads the board, Dorinda Iron Cloud, during the elections.
The election board consists of the judge, a marshal, two clerks and two alternates.
In addition, Emerson alleged that an election board alternate “was walking around, mingling with the crowd,” as votes were being counted. He noted that tribal law specifically prohibits election board members from interacting with voters during the election tally.
Prettybird accused board members of misconduct prior to and during the election. Among the allegations prior to the election, she accused a board alternate of driving a government vehicle with a suspended license and the marshal of using Fed-Ex to deliver personal medications during working hours.
During the election, Prettybird said the judge unlawfully sat with the council during the elections. She too noted that an alternate “was wandering around, then ate and fell asleep during the elections.”
“This is not professional. We pay her to do this,” Prettybird said.
However, she added, “it may not be her fault.”
She believes board members lacked supervision.
“They did all this under a judge who should have been overseeing it all. She failed in her duties,” Prettybird said. “They basically did anything they wanted to do. Standard procedures tell us any minor instances of impropriety is supposed to not be taken for granted.”
Prettybird called for the removal of Cloud. However, the judge submitted her resignation Dec. 6, which became effective Jan. 8. The judge's resignation did not satisfy Prettybird.
“I wanted her removed with cause,” Prettybird said.
The majority of tribal members in attendance at the meeting voted to disregard the allegations and uphold the election results.
“Both sides were heard and it was put to a vote,” said Escalanti, who was only an observer during the community meeting.
Aside from the judge, two clerks have resigned and the marshal has moved to another position, the tribal president said.
“I don't feel satisfied,” Emerson said.
He wanted the reason behind Prettybird's termination clarified and believes the tribal constitution and elections ordinance were disregarded by the election board.
Emerson said he hopes the current election board and council members will “study up” on election policies and procedures.
“I will support them,” he said.
But if he feels they are not “educating” themselves, “in six months we have the right to petition to get them out,” he added.
Escalanti believes the new council members have the “best interests of the people” in mind and will work to benefit the tribe.
As for outgoing council members Darnella Mellacon, Felix Montague and Jordan D. Joaquin, who all chose not to run for re-election, “they will be missed. We were a great team, and there was a lot we accomplished,” Escalanti said.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.