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Sinte Gleska payroll delayed for students

ROSEBUD, S.D.- Payday came late for nearly 200 staff members and students receiving stipends at Sinte Gleska University because of the upheaval following removal of the president and subsequent suspension of the Board of Regents.

No one could sign the checks until the council met on June 22 to resolve the issue at least, for the interim.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council suspended the university's Board of Regents' authority and bylaws after the board voted to fire university President Lionel Bordeaux. That action froze the board's ability to take care of even daily financial affairs because the council failed to designate anyone to fill the role of the board secretary-treasurer who routinely signed paychecks and other checks for the university's obligations.

The council suspended the board to allow it time to come to an agreement over terms of Bordeaux's continued employment and work out differences between the embattled president and regents.

Regents fired Bordeaux May 23 and appointed Regents Chairman John Spotted Tail as interim president while preparing to search for another president. Spotted Tail is the great-grandson of the chief for whom the university was named.

But, after lobbying by tribal members supporting Bordeaux, the tribal council met to reconsider the board action, then stepped in and suspended the board.

Bordeaux, who has held the job more than 28 years, was fired after board members said he failed to communicate effectively with them concerning those operations, publicly undermining the board and absenteeism. Board officials said he had made little progress in improving the university's standing after a report from the BIA Office of Education Programs suggested serious shortcomings in the institution's personnel and financial management.

Board members also accused Bordeaux of threatening and intimidating board members. The 60-year-old president admitted there had been friction.

When staff members arrived to pick up their paychecks, they weren't available, sending some staff members into a panic as they scrambled to cover financial obligations.

An upset group of staff members, many of them tribal members, approached the council with the problem June 21 and council members agreed to meet the following day to appoint financial officers to sign the checks.

"I've been working for the college for a number of years. You people are messing with our lives. It is affecting us. I want it stopped. We need to get paid. We have bills," Carmen White Horse said.

White Horse was one of 187 staff and students who receive stipends and who are waiting for paychecks to pay their bills.

Many of the staff was forced to negotiate with the local power company to prevent the electricity from being shut off because of the delay in payments. Other staff members said they were concerned the bank might fail to honor their checks even if they were paid June 22.

"A lot of the staff are one-income families and we caused a lot of chaos," said Councilwoman Sharon Swift.

The problem was complex because at least four documents authorized different individuals to sign checks, including Lionel Bordeaux who was in Washington, D.C, lobbying for creation of a national Native American University.

One document included the names of the tribal chairman, vice president and tribal secretary as people authorized to sign the checks. However, Tribal President William Kindle said he wanted to present the issue to the council before signing any checks, because of the multiple documents.

Regents Secretary-Treasurer Viola Waln said she had taken steps after the council suspended the board's authority and the university's bylaws.

Councilwoman Betty Red Owl questioned Waln's authority to freeze university bank accounts, but Waln said she froze the accounts because overseeing the financial issues of the university was her role.

"It was me who made the calls to the banks, Waln said. "I felt it was my duty to do that. I felt that it was my responsibility to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I was just doing my job."

Councilman Eric Nixon, who represents the council on the Board of Regents, objected to a motion allowing the university's vice president of academics Leland Bordeaux, vice president of administration Mike Benge and Fred Leader Charge to sign the checks.

"It isn't at all common for board members to be check signers. In most corporations it is the administration who signs these checks," Leland Bordeaux said.

"I'm going to ask that you pass this motion or otherwise tell these people that it is OK to play with their lives. Maybe you are giving them a vacation and that maybe this weekend they don't have to go to the store and shop for food for their families. Let's forget the power plays and go ahead with the motion," Bordeaux said.

In the end, the council took two separate actions June 22 to authorize four people to sign checks on behalf of the university. A morning motion authorized Leland Bordeaux and Mike Benge to sign checks for staff members, and in the afternoon Cheryl Crazy Bull and Julie Lambert were added as signatories.

The council did not specify how long the individuals would be in charge of financial issues, but the university's board and its president are to report to the council by July 1 and they have been working updating university bylaws.