Ex-director of Indian Affairs resigns from CEO post with Ute Tribe

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 3:34 p.m. MDT

Forrest Cuch, pictured in January 2005 during a presentation at Utah Valley University's 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, resigned as the CEO of Ute Tribal Enterprises on Sept. 11, 2012. Cuch cited interference by elected tribal officials and a lack of communication as the reasons for his departure.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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FORT DUCHESNE, Uintah County — The chief executive officer of the Ute Indian Tribe's commercial enterprises has resigned, citing interference by elected tribal officials and a lack of communication.

Forrest Cuch, who was tapped to lead Ute Tribal Enterprises in August 2011, tendered his resignation in a Sept. 11 letter to the tribe's governing body.

"I went in and cleaned up their businesses and it wasn't appreciated," Cuch told the Deseret News Monday. "I fixed every problem that was brought to my attention."

Still, Cuch said, members of the Ute Tribe Business Committee recently made a decision related to either the operations or management of Ute Tribal Enterprises without consulting him. While he wouldn't talk specifically about what that decision was, he said it amounted to "meddling" by elected officials. 

"I was hired to manage the enterprises and that was my responsibility. It was nobody else's responsibility," Cuch said.

"It was an infringement on my duties," he continued. "There was also a lack of communication. We were supposed to meet, but they canceled meeting after meeting after meeting."

Business Committee member Phillip Chimburas confirmed there was a lack of communication and support from some members of the body, which constitutes the executive and legislative branches of Ute tribal government. However, Chimburas would not discuss what incident or incidents specifically led to Cuch's decision to quit.

"This was his own decision," Chimburas said. "I didn't support his resignation, but I can't stop him."

Ute Tribal Enterprises operates a grocery store, two convenience stores, a bowling alley, a water truck company that serves the oil and natural gas industry, and a mothballed water bottling operation, which Cuch had planned to re-open. The company is being managed on an interim basis by its chief financial officer, Chimburas said.

Cuch, who is a member of the Ute Tribe, was hired by the Business Committee six months after he was fired as director of the state Division of Indian Affairs by Gov. Gary Herbert. Cuch had led the division for nearly 14 years at the time of his dismissal. The governor said he was insubordinate and no longer represented his office effectively — claims Cuch still flatly denies. 

During his brief tenure with the tribe, Cuch oversaw the remodeling of the bowling alley and the grocery store, where he also introduced organic foods. He implemented an employee training program as well and saw to it that a job description was created for each position in the organization. 

"I feel really good about the things we accomplished," he said. "(Tribal leaders) just might not have been ready for these types of changes, but they had businesses there that needed to be run properly."

Cuch said he is considering offers to consult with other tribes about economic development issues, but he still plans to finish building a house in the Uintah Basin, where he'll live full time.

"I'm not going to go away," Cuch said, noting that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of running for tribal office.

"I'm keeping all doors open, all possibilities," he said. "I think for my people, it's time to make some progress out here."

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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