Tribal Chair Quits

Council forces resignation, but DeCola may run in special election

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Tonto Apache Tribal Chairman Jeri DeCola has resigned under pressure of a slim majority of the tribal council for allegedly “gross misconduct,” but may run to fill her own seat in the next month.

DeCola said three members of the five-member tribal council demanded her resignation after security cameras at the casino showed she had several glasses of wine while socializing with friends.

The council majority termed her drinking constituted “gross misconduct,” which therefore made her subject to removal.

If the council had removed her it would have prevented her from holding tribal office again.

Other tribal council members did not return calls seeking comment.

After DeCola’s Sept. 30 resignation, enough voting members of the tribe signed a petition to require the council to reconsider its its action. DeCola said supporters got more signatures than they needed to force the reconsideration.

In her letter of resignation, DeCola wrote, “I maintain my steadfast belief that I have done nothing to violate our Constitution or diminish the office of Chairwoman. However, it is clear that three of five Tribal Council Members wish to see me removed. As clearly stated in our Constitution, I may not run for Tribal Council for a period of 10 years if I am formally removed from office. It would break my heart to know that I could not contribute to the betterment of our people as an elected official for such a long time.”

DeCola said in her letter of resignation that she had not done anything to merit the censure.

“I can assure you, and you know in your hearts that the events triggering your request were unusual circumstances. This was the time of the year when my most precious gift from God, my daughter, was so suddenly taken from me only a couple of years ago. While I take full responsibility for my actions, know that these events were in my heart and my mind, and revealed to me that I have not dealt with my loss in the most appropriate manner. Just like you, I am human, and despite my intentions, I am not perfect.”

She said she did not know when the tribal council would take up the petition seeking her reinstatement. She said she also did not know when the 130-member tribe would hold a special election for her replacement. She said she had not decided whether to run for her job again.

The incident is just the latest twist in a story stretching back for several years, which has sometimes pitted family members against one another. DeCola regained the position as tribal leader in June after an eight-year legal battle.

In 1986, DeCola became the first woman elected to the tribal council chair.

As vice-chair in 1999, DeCola resigned after fellow councilors discovered a year-old DUI conviction.

Councilors alleged that DeCola committed fraud by not disclosing the conviction. A clause in the tribe’s constitution bars candidates who have committed certain offenses. Moreover, the prosecution maintained that DeCola committed fraud by cashing paychecks she would not have collected had she disclosed her conviction. DeCola said at the time, that she disclosed the conviction to the Tribal Gaming Office as required, according to previous reports.

In 2002, the first-ever tribal jury convicted DeCola of fraud. The convictions prevented her from running again for tribal council and cost DeCola her state gaming license. Subsequently, DeCola lost her job at the Mazatzal Casino where she had been the general manager-in-training, according to previous reports.

DeCola fought to clear her name until 2007 when a tribal appeals court dismissed the conviction saying the prosecution was vindictive, unlawful and prejudiced.

In a June interview, DeCola said she felt vindicated, adding that her faith carried her through, and the tribulations helped her develop a deep sense of compassion.

She told the tale of Solomon, who “didn’t ask for health nor riches, but the wisdom to lead the people.”

In her Sept. 30 letter of resignation she wrote, “I firmly believe our people elected me to the Tribal Chairwoman because they have faith in my leadership. I have every intention of living up to their expectations and continuing to serve this tribe as a Tribal Council member.”

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