Ute tribal leaders are still at their post on the ruling Business Committee after a group of dissident tribal members from the eastern-Utah reservation ousted them in what Ute officials called an unconstitutional vote.
"I had thought they (the dissidents) would be standing here not allowing me into the office, but when I came in there was just the secretary here so we just carried on with business as usual," said committee chairman Lester Chapoose.The dissidents, calling themselves Concerned Tribal Members, voted 119-5 to remove the six members during a public meeting. But Ute officials said the move was unconstitutional and didn't fairly poll the other 2,900 Ute tribal members.
"The only way a member of the Business Committee can be recalled from office is if a referendum is done, that's all specified in the constitution of the Ute Tribe," said Chapoose, who is up for re-election in April.
The committee's ouster by the group is similar to collecting a group of angry Salt Lake businessmen to hold a public meeting to vote a City Council member out of office, Chapoose said.
Concerned Tribal Members raised grievances at Tuesday's meeting, including misuse of tribal money, 85 percent unemployment on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation, education issues, law-and-order problems and a law exempting the Business Committee from tribal court jurisdiction.
Chapoose denied any misuse of tribal money, saying the Business Committee has little access to tribal coffers, and said the law shielding the committee from legal action was already included in tribal constitutional provisions.
Tribal attorney Steve Boyden said a recall drive must be initiated with a petition drive and completed with an official recall election monitored by election judges.
Members of the tribe's three bands elect two representatives each to the committee, and only band members can recall their respective representatives, Boyden said. Dissident Utes are already circulating petitions to get the recall under way, Chapoose said. Meanwhile, Chapoose announced Wednesday he will seek re-election to the Business Committee.