Tribe Calls For Election

Ousted tribal chairwoman says it’s ‘up to the people’ to nominate next chair

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The Tonto Apache Tribe will hold an election Nov. 8 to replace Tonto Apache Tribe Chairwoman Jeri DeCola, who resigned Sept. 11 after the tribal council forced her out on a 3-2 vote.

DeCola, reached Thursday as she was packing for a trip to the Caribbean, said she did not know who would run in the Nov. 8 election. Previously, she said she

wanted to serve on the tribal council but wasn’t sure if she would run again for chairman.

“It’s up to the people of the tribe to nominate who they want in office,” she said.

Her trip to the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands was already planned.

“Life does go on in spite of obstacles and challenges that we may have,” DeCola said. “That’s part of life.”

Members of the tribal council did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment on the special election or the reasons the council majority asked DeCola to resign.

DeCola has said she resigned only because if the council majority followed through on its vow to fire her, she could not then serve on the tribal council or as chairman for 10 years, under the tribe’s bylaws.

DeCola’s Sept. 30 forced resignation came after security cameras showed her drinking at the casino.

Reports differ as to what she was drinking and how much she had. She said it was the first time she’d had a drink in years and she was at the time upset because of the two-year anniversary of her daughter’s death.

Reportedly, she had four or five drinks over a period of several hours before the bartender refused to serve her any more. Someone then reportedly called the casino shuttle to get her home.

Three of the five-member tribal council subsequently demanded her resignation. Although she broke no laws, the council majority held that she had failed to uphold the “integrity” of the tribe. If the council had removed her, it would have prevented her from holding tribal office again.

Reportedly, 27 of the 82 voting members of the tribe had signed a petition seeking her reinstatement.

The incident represents the latest twist in a long struggle, with elements of a bitter family feud. The tribal council had in 1999 removed her as vice chair, on the grounds that she had failed to adequately disclose a DUI conviction in 1998. She sued and won after a judge ruled her firing unjustified. She then ran for tribal chair four months ago and won.

On Thursday, DeCola said she will focus on her business ventures — mainly nutritional liquid vitamins and energy drinks.

She is also considering making fry bread again — “to satisfy the craving of people who want Jeri’s fry bread.”

“I’m going to live large and enjoy it as the good Lord intended for me to do,” she said.

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