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Sinte Gleska ousts Lionel Bordeaux

MISSION, S.D. - The Sinte Gleska University Board of Regents appointed its chairman, John Spotted Tail interim president to replace longtime president Lionel Bordeaux. Spotted Tail is a great-great-grandson of the Sicangu chief for whom the college is name.

Leland Bordeaux, vice president of academics, said it is likely that Lionel Bordeaux, a Rosebud Sioux tribal councilman, will appeal to the council for a reprieve.

He added that while staff ordinarily would turn to the president and then the board with a grievance, the ex-president will have to pursue other options for the appeal.

The tribal council, Bordeaux said, could overturn the board's decision with a majority vote but Regent Rose Cordier said it was doubtful the council would intervene.

Lionel and Leland Bordeaux are not related.

Lionel Bordeaux, president for nearly 28 years, came under fire when board members suggested little had been done to improve the university's standing after a scathing evaluation last year of its personnel and financial management by officials from the BIA Office of Education Programs.

BIA officials cited poor accounting practices, inadequate training of business staff, failure to apply a chain of command, abuse of leave policies and a running deficit.

Cordier said the problems still haven't been addressed and added that the tribal council more than likely would honor the board's decision and shy away from involving itself.

"There were four reasons cited for the termination - publicly undermining the integrity of the Board of Regents, not coming to work and drawing full salary, failure to report to the board of directors and with recent acts of threatening and intimidating board members," Cordier said.

Rae Burnette, a part-time consultant hired by Lionel Bordeaux, said that while the BIA hasn't issued a new evaluation, the problems were being addressed but wouldn't elaborate on what was being done to correct deficiencies.

Spotted Tail, whose family has nurtured advancement of the university from a small college in borrowed buildings to a university, said many of the administrative problems were tied to a communication gap between the former president and the board.

He said the firing was considered earlier, but regents were threatened and intimidated by Bordeaux.

"New board members were threatened personally and on the radio. People don't have to put up with that and they shouldn't have to hear that," he said.

There were physical threats against board members, he said, adding that a new set of board members in recent years demanded to know more about the institution's financial matters.

Annual audits were never released to the board nor were they made public, Spotted Tail said.

"I've been on the board for four years and I've never seen an audit report. We know we have money, but we don't know how the money is being spent. We made a motion a few months ago to put a cap limit on how much the president could spend without the board's approval.

"We couldn't get an up to date accounting of our budget. It was always three to four months behind," he said.

Spotted Tail estimated the university's budget is more than $7 million, but he remainder of the university's finances are a question mark. The board will hire an accounting firm to do another audit to determine its available resources.

This time, Spotted Tail said the audit will be released to the public.

Meanwhile, the board will form a selection committee composed of university and community members to look for new leadership.

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"We hope to get it done in 90 days," he said.

In the absence of a university president, Leland Bordeaux and Mike Benge, vice president of administration, were assigned to oversee the day-to-day expenditures of the university.

Leland Bordeaux said he wasn't sure of the status. "There are a lot of questions about the legality of the whole thing. All that has really happened so far is there have been a lot of staff who went before the board and showed quite a bit of support for Lionel.

"Our audits are always clean. We have had it done by a private firm once a year. I would say there were no questionable expenditures," Leland Bordeaux said. "I didn't take any active part to become part of the interim thing because I'm loyal to Lionel and I've known him for a couple of years. I've known him for a number of years. I've seen his leadership and I've watched what he has done for this college.

"He's has a lot of contacts nationally and globally."

Cordier insists, "It's basically over. The tribal council doesn't have anything to do with it. Although (Lionel Bordeaux) is trying to get people to support him or even council people to bring it to the council. Over the years and as recently as just two weeks ago, he reminded the council that it can't interfere with any private organization. I'm sure the council will remember that and honor that."

She went on to say, "The tribal council can't dissolve the board. In our charter, bylaws and articles of incorporation, the only provision for removing any board member is ... for missing three meetings in a row.

"Bordeaux planned this out very well. He wanted to make sure that no one could mess with his board by removing the board members."

The move has caused a division among university officials and cultural leaders who believe that since the former president was installed during a Lakota Pipe ceremony, with at least four medicine men including Frank Fools Crow, he must leave under the same circumstances.

During a meeting Friday, May 25, many who view themselves as traditional leaders scolded board members for the change in leadership.

"Fred Leader Charge gave us a talk about the sacredness and seriousness of the Pipe in the Lakota culture and Leland Bordeaux said the board wasn't allowing him to fulfill his oath that he took over 25 years ago," Cordier said.

Leader Charge and White Hat, lead a group who brought a petition asking for the dissolution of the board, but Cordier said the two tribal leaders didn't leave a copy of the petition to include as part of the record.

Cordier said she didn't know how many staff and students signed the petition, but some later apologized saying they were scared and intimidated by Bordeaux so they signed it.

Leland Bordeaux said the president was "asked by Albert White Hat if he was finished. 'No I still have work to do.'"

"We tried to explain to the board he was installed with the Pipe. You just don't terminate him."

However, board members view the issue differently because of concerns about the university's financial stability and focus on the advancement of programs.

"We have rescinded this board so we can go now," White Hat told the group. He and nearly 50 people walked out of the meeting.

Russel Eagle Bear, who signed the petition, stayed behind to talk to the board. He said he signed the petition, but wanted to keep an open mind.

Eagle Bear said the action of the board split the tribe and although the board could go out to the communities and find supporters of its action, the tribe will forever be split.

"Just like what happened with the hog farm," he said.