Rocky Boy chairman fired, controversy ensues
Members of the Chippewa Creek Business Council said they removed Chairman Ken St. Marks from office Friday for “neglect of duty and gross misconduct.”
Their action set off a rapid-fire series of events all day Friday on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
About 100 St. Marks supporters gathered with him at the tribal office, and St. Marks said he was still the legitimate chairman and would stay at the tribal headquarters “until they carry me out in handcuffs.”
There was tension during the day as tribal officials called upon the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to send officers from Billings to clear St. Marks and his supporters from the tribal office
St. Marks charged that his opponents were trying to get rid of him because since his election in November he has been working with federal prosecutors, the FBI and inspectors general from at least three federal agencies on an investigation into an alleged corruption ring on the reservation.
“I was elected by the people,” he said. “Only the people should fire me.”
'Callous disregard for the obligations'
A statement issued by the tribal council to the Havre Daily News via email said legal papers served on St. Marks identified seven actions and categories of actions that “collectively and individually, establish a knowing and willful violation of legal duty, lack of ethical responsibility, and callous disregard for the obligations” of the chairman.
In its official statement, the tribal council majority said to St, Marks that the “roles and duties you violated are of great importance in the administration of public office and their breach renders you unfit to continue to hold office.”
'Tribal council blamed for problems
But St. Marks supporters said it was the council that was serving the public poorly,
St. Marks said he has been thwarted in efforts to get questions about money spent at Chippewa Cree Construction Co.and Northern Winds Casino.
He said the corruption could have cost the tribe millions of dollars
After serving the papers on St. Marks, tribal council obtained an injunction from tribal court ordering St. Marks to have no contact with council members and to vacate his office at the headquarters. St. Marks supporters obtained a copy of the injunction, but it was never served on St. Marks.
St. Marks said his dismissal was invalid because it violated the Chippewa Cree Constitution because the vote was taken at an illegally called meeting,
As the events unfolded
The events unfolded like this:
• A tribal council was scheduled for 9 a.m., but only St. Marks, the secretary-treasurer and recorder were on hand for the meeting at tribal headquarters, along with many St. Marks supporters who planned to make comments at the meeting.
• Apparently, the other tribal council members met earlier — without notifying St. Marks — to pass a resolution firing him. St. Marks said the meeting was held at Chippewa Cree Construction Co., in Box Elder, though a man answering the phone at the company denied that to a reporter.
• St. Marks was served by Rocky Boy police with the dismissal papers at the tribal headquarters. His supporters gathered and called friends who joined them at headquarters.
• Tribal workers at the headquarters and throughout the reservation were sent home. One woman said she was told officials feared that St. Marks’ supporters would steal files and turn them over to the FBI. That allegation brought laughter from the protesters.
• Supporters gave speeches praising St. Marks and calling on him to fight the dismissal in tribal and federal courts. Lunch was brought in for the protesters
• .Sometime during the morning, council vice chairman Rick Morsette, a foe of St. Marks, faxed a letter to BIA asking they immediately send law enforcement officers to clear the tribal headquarters of St. Marks and his supporters.
• Morsette said he feared St. Marks was inciting his supporters to violence, though a Havre Daily News reporter saw no hint of violence during his five hours at the session.
St. Marks called BIA’s Billings office, where he was told by officials they were “monitoring the situation,” but had not sent officers to Rocky Boy.
Police show up at headquarters
Rocky Boy police arrived at the headquarters midafternoon. While their arrival created a stir inside the building, the officers stood outside and made no effort to enter the building.
A Rocky Boy officer told a tribal security officer to inform the crowd that they had to leave the headquarters at 4:30 p.m., when the building was scheduled to close.
That brought a chorus of boos from the crowd. Police made no effort to enter at closing time.
St. Marks talks to U.S. attorney
During the afternoon, St. Marks telephoned U.S. Attorney for Montana Michael W. Cotter at his Helena office
The crowd could only hear St. Marks’ side the conversation, but the chairman said Cotter told him that he was investigating to see if St. Marks fell under the federal Whistleblowers’ Act. A provision signed by President Barack Obama when he approved the stimulus program said that no one could be disciplined for reporting wrongdoing.
“If I fall under this, they can’t fire me,” St. Marks said.
The protesters were preparing a request for a tribal court injunction to challenge St. Marks’ dismissal.
During the all-day vigil, several speakers complained about alleged corruption and fiscal mismanagement on the reservation. Several people alleged corruption was rampant in the construction of the Northern Winds Casino.
St. Marks said he got a $16 million bill from a Florida firm that had something to do with the failed construction of a hotel adjacent to the casino. He said he has had no success in determining what the bill was about.
Several people were concerned the amount of money spent on the annual rodeo and the powwow.
“We spend all this money for the best rodeo in the state and a grand powwow,” one woman said. “But we have people here who don‘t have enough to eat.”
St. Marks was told he would have the chance to answer the tribal council allegations at 9 a.m. Monday, March 25, at tribal headquarters.
Attempts to reach Morsette Friday night for further comments were not successful.