Last month, the tribe’s judicial branch ruled that Chief Pechonick violated the Delawares’ constitution when she terminated the contracts of two Skiatook-based consultants, contrary to the vote of the tribe’s council. Now, a candidate for Delaware Tribal Council is circulating a petition calling for a recall election.
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. – A recall petition aimed at a tribal chairwoman is now making the rounds in northeastern Oklahoma.
At the urging of several tribal elders, Bonnie Jo Griffiths filed the paperwork for an initiative petition May 16 with the Delaware Tribe of Indians for an election to potentially recall Chief Paula Pechonick. Under the tribe’s policies, at least 100 tribal citizens must sign off on the petition for a recall election to happen.
“All of these frustrations have built up,” Griffiths, a candidate in the tribe’s November council election, said. “I hated to file this petition, but a lot of elders pushed me. If it costs me the election, that’s fine. Just need to know what’s going on. I think we as Delawares are entitled to a fair, honest open government.”
Already aggravated by the tribe’s lack of sunshine laws, the tipping point for Griffith was a lawsuit filed this spring by part of the Delaware Tribal Council over the premature termination of a government contract.
Last month, the tribe’s judicial branch ruled that Chief Pechonick violated the Delawares’ constitution when she terminated the contracts of Jim and Libbi Gray, two Skiatook-based Osage consultants, contrary to the vote of the tribe’s council.
Jim Gray is a former chief of the Osage Nation and previous owner of the Native American Times.
At its regular Dec. 2 2013, meeting, the council voted 3-3 with one member absent to end the Grays’ contract. Under the standing rules and procedures of the Delaware Tribe’s council, a measure does not pass with a tie vote.
Prior to its December 2013 meeting, the council members were polled on whether to terminate the contract, with Assistant Chief Chet Brooks, Secretary Verna Crawford and council members Jennifer Pechonick and Nate Young voting against termination. The chief’s daughter, Jennifer Pechonick did not attend the December council vote.
According to documents obtained by the Native American Times, tribal employees were advised in writing on Dec. 16, 2013, by a member of the tribal council that despite the council’s vote, the Grays’ contract was still in effect for the agreement’s remaining four months on the contract. Crawford’s memo would in turn be superseded by another interoffice memo, dated Dec. 20, which helped prompt the three council members who voted against ending it early to file a lawsuit against Chief Pechonick in tribal court.
Due to a conflict of interest, Young later recused himself from the proceedings.
Down a participant, the Delaware court sided with the plaintiffs last month. In his ruling, Delaware associate judge Charles Randall wrote that Chief Pechonick was in direct violation of three articles of the tribe’s constitution and two articles of its bylaws by terminating the Gray and Gray Consulting contract.
When contacted, Jim Gray refused to specifically comment on the lawsuit.
“Only thing I feel comfortable saying is that we are proud of the work we did for the Delaware Tribe and wish them the best of luck in the future,” Jim Gray said.
Citing a non-disclosure agreement with the tribe, Gray and Gray Consulting, LLC declined to elaborate on the nature of its work with the Delaware Tribe.
Despite Randall’s decision remanding punitive responsibility to the tribe’s council, the council did not address the lawsuit at its May meeting, nor was it even on the meeting’s agenda. When approached after the meeting, Crawford said that the point of the lawsuit was not to necessarily punish Chief Pechonick for her actions.
“We just wanted us all to be on the same page moving forward,” she said.
Chief Pechonick, who is up for re-election this fall, indicated that she sees this case as closed
“I am grateful the case has been resolved,” Pechonick said. “We (the Tribal Council) have been able to put this behind us and move forward in a good way. We are proud of the progress we have been able to accomplish for our tribe. We are excited for the future for our tribe and our people.”
However, not all Delawares share that view, prompting Griffiths’ petition to start making the rounds.
As it continues to circulate across northeastern Oklahoma, Griffiths has one request for Delawares who are considering signing it: please do not pass it around at the tribe’s upcoming powwow.
“I don’t think that’s right (at powwow),” she said. “It’s the 50th anniversary and we don’t need to bring politics into it. It would just be disrespectful to the event, the powwow committee, staff, the honored elders and everyone who worked so hard to put the event on. We need 100 signatures and can get it without parading it through. I just don’t think that’s the place for it.
“If someone from a family wants to have it at their camp, that’s fine, but I will be very upset if someone just tries to hit up random Delawares at the powwow.”