It’s official—the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has elected its first chairwoman, Pearl Casias, who received 160 votes to fill a nine-month term left vacant when Matthew Box, the former chairman, resigned in mid-February amid allegations of tribal mismanagement.
Casias, who was sworn into office April 13, received 37 percent of votes cast, enough to attain the chair under tribal election regulations governing special elections.
Box, despite leaving the chairmanship under pressure, decided to run for the office again to finish out his term and received 36 votes, or about 8 percent of those cast, in the April 12 election.
After Casias, the next-highest vote-getter was Clement J. Frost, a rancher who had served several terms as chairman, with 116 votes; Kevin R. Frost, his relative, a graduate of the University of Denver law school, 76 votes; and Richard Jefferson, who also had served on the tribal council, 50 votes. Only about half the tribe’s registered voters cast ballots.
Casias, a former tribal court chief judge, is also a Southern Ute Tribal elder and a historian. She served on the tribal council when the tribe was entering an era of prosperity from its vast oil and gas holdings which, in turn, meant educational, housing, health care, and other benefits for some 1,400 tribal members.
She also was health services director for the tribe and attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, near tribal headquarters in southwestern Colorado.
During the campaign to fill the chairmanship pending the November general election, Casias reminded tribal members that tribal government belonged to them and said recent changes were not all positive.
Although housing, employment, and other functions of government would be a focus, she said she wanted to stress the importance of creating and sustaining “an atmosphere wherein the issues can be given the attention to make informed decisions for you, the people” and said leadership is “a return to the basics.”
A leader should “Listen to all the people, take into account all variables affecting the problem, and subject them to different scenarios” independent of “personal opinions, family opinions, or popular opinions,” she said.
A person “who does the bidding of a special-interest group or committee is not a leader, but someone who adopts and proffers the principles and positions of a few, a paid mouthpiece, whose job it is to advance the interests of a few at the expense of the many,” she said in a campaign statement, pledging stability and unity for the tribe.
Dissatisfied tribal members nearly a year ago began efforts to recall Box, obtaining the signatures of 264 tribal members on a petition, just above the 250 required to initiate a recall election.
Box survived that election challenge, only to be asked by the tribal council to resign two months later after dissatisfaction grew over personnel actions that were said to include retaliatory or questionable firings and other personnel actions that created a breach of trust in tribal administration.
Jefferson, one of Box’s key opponents, also was concerned about some of the tribe’s investments and he sought information on the tribe’s various limited liability corporations, some of which were thought to be unprofitable.