Kiowas seeking to impeach chairman
The Kiowa Tribe chairman is facing impeachment over his handling of coronavirus relief funds by the tribe’s 7-member legislative branch.
The mishandling of the money, distributed by the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, is one of five “constitutional violations” the tribe’s chairman, Matthew Komalty, will be facing. The public hearing is set to take place at 10 a.m. on July 30 at the tribal headquarters in Carnegie, Oklahoma, 80 miles west of Oklahoma City.
In addition to the CARES Act funding expenditures, Komalty is charged with wrongful termination of Kiowa gaming employees, failing to go through the proper process on the annual tribal audit, failing to ensure that the tribe’s treasurer was properly bonded, salary increases given without approval, and the wrongful and unapproved appointment of an executive director, said Angela McCarthy, speaker of the tribe’s legislature.
“We have to only find him impeachable on one of the charges...and our basic stance is that we're doing on behalf of the people, protecting our people,” McCarthy said. “We’re their voice, and this is one of their only recourse.”
The Kiowa Constitution outlines that impeachment requires a unanimous vote by all seven legislators. If there’s a unanimous vote, Komalty’s impeachment and removal from office is effective immediately. Vice Chairman Rhonda Ahhaitty replaces Komalty for the duration of the four-year term, and would be responsible for selecting the vice chairman.
The seven tribal legislators unanimously approved proceeding with the Komalty’s impeachment on June 23.
At the same time, Komalty is looking at a potential recall election to vote him out. The recall petition was launched on June 20, only three days before the legislature voted to impeach him. The tribe’s members need to collect 1,511 signatures by Sept. 23 to force the recall election. There are approximately 14,100 total enrolled citizens of the Kiowa Tribe, according to Freida Satepeahtaw, director of the tribe’s COVID-19 response program.
To recall the chairman from office, the amount of signatures obtained on the petition must be the same amount as the number of votes of the election from when Komalty took office. The election commission then would host a special election for the recall. And votes for the recall must either match or be higher than the amount signed on the recall petition in order for the recall to be passed through the vote of the Kiowa Indian Council.
“There is no basis for any of these charges,” Komalty told Gaylord News.
If Komalty is impeached, all funds from the CARES Act spending would be temporarily halted until it can be voted on by the Kiowa Indian Council. Komalty said this would “place all tribal members in jeopardy” and delay distribution of the financial assistance to members for months.
“When I took office, my two priorities were to take care of our school children and take care of our elders,” Komalty said. “I have a background in education, I was raised by my grandpa and grandma, so that's where I come from.
“I told my son and daughters the other day, when I pass away, all I want on my headstone is that ‘he cared’. And that's what we do, we care. Everybody here has got big hearts and that's all we care about is our people,” he said.
McCarthy said that this is not the first time the impeachment of Komalty has been discussed within the Kiowa Tribe legislature since Komalty was first elected in 2017.
However, this is the first time it has been put through the beginning stages of the process.
Komalty’s possible impeachment and recall from office marks 10 years of turmoil in tribal leadership. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had refused to recognize the results of Kiowa tribal elections until Komalty’s in 2017. The BIA intervened in the tribe’s 2015 election after “four years of broken government” within the tribe, a move the tribe fought.
Kiowa elder J.T. Goombi, however, questions Komalty’s transparency on allocating the CARES Act money.
“Did he (Komalty) get out here and say, here, we got money and here’s what we plan to do with it? That’s not there. So that’s become a big problem. It wasn't until he (Komalty) got his impeachment charges, and his recall charges, that he started publicizing the things that he was going to do and try to do,” Goombi said.
“You don't wait till you get in trouble and then start publicizing all the good stuff that you learned to do. It’s a little after the fact. From my perspective, that’s the way I see it,” Goombi said.
The biggest thing that would help the tribe, according to Goombi, is a forensic audit. A forensic audit will identify the origin of the funding, anybody that had access to it, and it would identify all of the weaknesses in operating policies while suggesting changes to the policies, Goombi said.
“I think if we can get our forensic audit done that'll give us a starting place; anything less than that, we're just gonna be spinning our wheels and looking bad for the next 20 years,” Goombi said. “The Bible says, you build your house on solid ground, you’ll stand. Up to now, we've gotten where we've been building on sand. And you know what comes with that.”
Nancy Spears, Cherokee, is a junior at the University of Oklahoma working towards a degree in journalism. She also writes articles for Gaylord News as a freelance journalist.
Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.