Ute chairman avoids recall

IGNACIO, Colo. – Matthew Box, Southern Ute tribal chairman, survived a recall challenge Dec. 3 after his opponents apparently failed to convince voters that there are major problems in his administration of the 1,400-member tribe headquartered in southwestern Colorado.

For a valid recall election to have occurred, more than half the tribe’s registered voters would have had to cast ballots and, for removal of the tribal chairman, more than half of those who voted would have had to favor recall. Fewer than half voted in the special election.

Votes were cast by 308 tribal members, fewer than the 423 members out of the tribe’s 844 registered voters who would have had to show up at the polling place in order for the recall to take place, Andrea Taylor, tribal information officer, said. No count was kept of those favoring Box’s retention or recall because the referendum did not get to that point.

The tribal chairman was in council meetings most of the day Dec. 6 when official voting results were released, but he issued a brief statement about the referendum’s outcome.

“The teachings of Aka Nuche (Red Ute) is strong in my being as is the teachings of my people,” Box said. “I am here for the Creator and my people. It has been meant for me to go through this (recall), as many leaders before me and even today face this challenge.

“I only ask creation for strength and good blessings for all who supported me and those that didn’t. Together we are still one, the great nation of the Southern Ute Tribe.” – Matthew Box, chairman of the Southern Ute Tribe

“I only ask creation for strength and good blessings for all who supported me and those that didn’t. Together we are still one, the great nation of the Southern Ute Tribe.”

The recall was initiated eight months ago by opponents who circulated a petition bearing the valid signatures of 264 tribal members, just over the 250 required to initiate a recall election.

Richard Jefferson, a tribal member who spearheaded removal efforts, said he was concerned that an anti-voting message by Box aired repeatedly over local tribal radio may have made some members fearful of casting their ballots at the voting site.

Box urged tribal members who supported him to stay away from the polls, where a sparse turnout would invalidate the results.

“The very fact of voting had a chilling effect,” Jefferson said. He is also concerned that there may be retaliation against tribal employees “who may feel the brunt of this” if they are perceived as disloyal to the chairman or members of his administration.

While the recall failed, “Out of those who voted, 246 voted to remove him, and we only needed 222 (if the recall had been held),” he said, citing an unofficial tally and adding that Box’s election fate next November for a second three-year term may hinge on whether there are reprisals or whether positive steps are taken.

He and others concerned about the administration will continue to work for change and greater accountability.

Box’s critics charged that he and an executive officer were unresponsive and hostile to tribal members’ inquiries, that employment and ethics policies were suspended, and that the tribe’s Growth Fund had “lost millions of dollars in limited liability corporations.”

The tribe, with billions in investments, has vast real estate holdings and natural gas-related industrial development. In addition to providing major educational and other social services to its members, the tribe distributes income on a per capita basis to tribal members, with larger payments reportedly given to those over 60 years of age.

Box has made positive relationships with surrounding governments a hallmark of his administration and the tribe, said to have more employees than members, is a major employer in the region near Mesa Verde National Park and other scenic destinations.

Besides the recall vote, an election was scheduled Dec. 14 for two Southern Ute tribal council seats sought by Janelle Raye Doughty, Steven R. Herrera Sr., James M. Olguin and Ramona Eagle.