The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs’ (CCIA) executive secretary, Carol Harvey, has been terminated from her job because, she said, she was told her position was provisional and she was “not a fit” for it.
Harvey was appointed to the position in March 2010 by then-Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien and remained as CCIA executive secretary after Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia assumed office in January 2011.
The CCIA secretary acts as liaison between the state and Colorado’s two tribal nations, the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Tribes of southwestern Colorado, and off-reservation American Indians, including the urban Indian population located primarily in the Denver metro area and along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
Harvey, of Dine’ and Hispanic descent, said via e-mail that she had no forewarning she was to be fired and had not been informed of any infractions. She said she was terminated by Andrew Freedman, Garcia’s chief of staff, who was out of the office until November 14 and who referred queries to Suzanne Hultin, deputy chief of staff, who in turn referred them to Julie McCluskie, Garcia’s director of communications, who said, “The administration has made a change in the executive secretary position for the (CCIA). We thank Carol Harvey for her service and commitment to the state. We are moving forward to fill this position in partnership with tribal leaders and CCIA.”
Harvey met weekly with Freedman, she said, “at which time I had never been counseled for my work performance.” She also said she is employed by the CCIA, not the lieutenant governor, and “it is a statutory appointment.” “I received no determination of unfitness from the commission,” she said, adding that the CCIA budget and personnel committee was responsible for performance evaluations, but that she did not receive an evaluation.
Harvey said she was offered but refused to sign a confidentiality agreement and waiver of any lawsuit for wrongful termination, conditions she noted were not normally offered to terminated employees. She also said she was not given the opportunity to speak to Garcia but was told she could file for unemployment benefits and was given an unemployment benefits package.
“I was told to turn in certain property of the state (badge, office key, cell phone and credit card), which I did, and to leave immediately, which I did,” she said.
Harvey reiterated that she had not received any notice of violations related to her job, although Garcia “was displeased that I hadn’t informed him” about unspecified issues with CCIA’s reinterment committee, “not one member (of which) had ever said a word of complaint to me.” The committee carries out responsibilities under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and related state practices.
“Also, the lieutenant governor said the tribe(s) was/were unhappy because of my lack of consultation. He did not specify any particular person or issue,” she said, noting she has “hundreds of e-mails” documenting weekly or more frequent communication with the tribes, the CCIA, state legislators, and the public, as well as quarterly reports and other sources of information.
Several members of CCIA’s budget and personnel and reinterment committees were contacted concerning Harvey’s firing, but were unavailable, declined comment, or referred requests for information to Garcia’s office.
Some observers have said the two tribes may have felt left out of more direct communication and contact with the CCIA, a matter of particular concern because the authorizing statute cites that liaison function first in a list of the CCIA’s statutory duties. The statute also, however, repeatedly refers to the needs, assistance, programs, and other matters affecting “Indians of this state” and to the status of recognition of “all Indian groups, tribes, and communities” in Colorado.
Harvey said she is focusing “on what I did accomplish because no one can take it away. I am happy that I had almost two years to address key issues impacting American Indians in Colorado: cultural preservation, economic development, education and health care.”
She initiated an Indian-developed Native education curriculum “so for the first time in Colorado the Native voice will be heard, even though there has been legislation (mandating Native-focused material in schools) since 1996.” She also helped form the American Indian Health Council Inc. to address health disparities, including a Native infant mortality rate nearly three times the overall rate. She facilitated the funneling of some state health funds to tribal and urban Indian health organizations.
Harvey also began an Economic Opportunities and Resources Committee, prepared Native resource directories and a general directory, created a comprehensive CCIA website, coordinated approval for Ute tribal flags to be permanently displayed in the state capitol, addressed student drop-out and graduation rates, and undertook other tasks.