Two state officials—one current, one out—have been engaged in a high-level contest that, it turns out, centered on dissatisfaction expressed by Colorado’s two Ute tribes over what they have perceived as less-than-optimal government-to-government communication and related services from the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA).
Carol Harvey, Dine’/Hispanic, the recently fired CCIA executive secretary, has received considerable urban Indian community support since her termination, but it apparently was trumped by the general dissatisfaction of the Ute tribes located in southwestern Colorado.
Pearl Casias, chairwoman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, expressed in a carefully worded statement a need to address “concerns this tribe has had.” Her comments were supported by Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, who stressed the government-to-government relationship between the state and tribes and said there was a need to “ensure our concerns are met.”
Their remarks were in a conference call November 16 arranged by Colorado Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia, CCIA chairman and head of the state Department of Higher Education, who made it clear that the government-to-government relationship between the state and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes was the CCIA’s priority.
In a statement issued by Garcia’s office several hours after the conference call ended, he, Casias and Hayes thanked Harvey for her service to the state and tribes, but said they agreed “that it is time to improve the overall effectiveness of the government-to-government relationship” of the state and the two tribes and to build on successful work of the past “to advance their shared interests.”
“We believe that a strong and effective leader in the role of executive secretary (of CCIA) can help to provide a stronger voice for out tribes and for all indigenous people in Colorado,” the statement concludes.
Garcia noted a state statute that lists the primary CCIA duty as coordinating intergovernmental dealings between tribal governments and the state, a duty followed by others that mandate assessing and alleviating needs and providing other services to all Indians in Colorado.
Garcia said it was the CCIA executive secretary’s critical role to act as a conduit to tribes and to maintain an open line to address tribal needs and priorities and he felt it was “time to improve the overall level of service” and communication with the tribes.
He skirted the specifics of Harvey’s abrupt firing, noting he had to be “circumspect” because of personnel matters that could result in litigation, but said he and Andrew Freedman, his chief of staff, had both talked with her about effective communication with the tribes.
The former CCIA executive secretary, an attorney, was a holdover from the previous administration and was a political appointee who could be fired at will without going through formal termination processes that may apply to other state employees, he said.
Harvey could not be reached for comment, but she has requested federal and state civil and criminal investigations into her recent termination by Freedman, contending Garcia as CCIA chairman violated state sunshine and civil rights laws in her firing and may have failed to address irregularities in federal grants, Medicaid amendments, education, and Indian Child Welfare Act compliance that concerned tribes. She has also cited many visits to the reservations and pro-tribe activities.
By voice vote, each CCIA member was in favor of Garcia’s replacement proposal, which he said will include input from heads of the two Ute tribes in the initial selection process, followed by a decision of the full commission. Casias said she might confer with the tribal council about the input and asked “for us as a tribe to have the time we need.”
Harvey was summarily ousted in early November by Freedman, who told her only that she was “not a fit” for the job, she has said, recalling that she was ordered to turn in her badge, office key, cell phone, credit card, and to leave immediately. One person on the conference call questioned why the firing was conducted in that way, and Garcia said it was “just a personnel decision” that he approved because he wanted to hire a replacement by the end of the year.
Another comment was that some people perceived the firing as “a political thing” and that there is someone already selected for the job, a contention Garcia denied, saying applications from enrolled members of federally recognized tribes will be accepted until November 23.
Whether the November 16 conference call even constituted a “public meeting” under Colorado open meetings law is questionable, Harvey said earlier, because it did not allow for the CCIA’s requisite 10 days’ advance notice and because it did not allow access for community members without phones or with hearing limitations.