UPDATED December 9, 2011: The Hopi Tribal Council has voted unanimously to reduce the scope of the tribal chairman’s authority and to end the legal services of its tribal attorney. The actions follow dissatisfaction over personnel matters and complaints about the attorney’s pay and operations.
At the same time, the Council kept a tight rein on the proposed hiring of a chief administrative officer (CAO), excluding the chairman, LeRoy Shingoitewa, and vice chairman, Herman Honanie, from hiring or giving final approval to a CAO, reserving both actions to itself.
The Council on December 1 strengthened Honanie’s authority in other areas by delegating to him many, if not most tribal functions—the duties and responsibilities of a CAO and the administration of personnel matters and of offices of human resources, finance, management information systems, planning and evaluation and realty.
“There have been recent numerous improprieties with the human resources office such as placing tribal employees on administrative leave and termination of employees and not adhering to the current personnel policy” as well as finance issues, including a failure to provide budget information for the tribe, headquartered in Kykotsmovi, Arizona.
The problems have led to “ineffective and inefficient governmental operations” of the tribal government, according to the Council resolution.
In a further sweep of the administration, interim general counsel Robert J. Lyttle is out, as of December 31, because the tribe wants to find a permanent attorney. The resolution also bars further legal services by any third party attorneys or law firms employed in any relationship with Lyttle and requires him to prepare a status report for the Council within 30 days.
Lyttle, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, came under fire when some tribal members questioned whether his firm had a physical location and whether his fees were in line with the tribe’s limited financial resources.
In a press release, Shingoitewa is quoted as saying that if the broad changes are allowable under the tribal constitution, “it will be interesting to see how the vice chairman and council respond to the challenges we face.”
The chairman also defended Lyttle, noting that Lyttle “and his team have uncovered much wrongdoing within the tribe itself and have been working to right many wrongs that have been done against the Hopi people. This will place much more of a spotlight and accountability on each of the council members moving forward.”
When all billings are examined, “I think the council will also be surprised to find Mr. Lyttle and other legal experts were charging the tribe far less than any previous administrations,” he said.
Under the new tribal structure, Honanie will also supervise and direct tribal departments of education, Hopi Guidance Center, community health services, natural resources, and public safety/emergency services and is delegated administration and other matters. He is to report to the Council every 30 days and to inform them before any personnel actions are taken.